The Filioque: A Response to Critics


St. Augustine of Hippo, The Lateran, 6th century CE

In my previous blog post, I argued that the filioque as initially formulated by Saint Augustine of Hippo was perfectly orthodox. While I expected a great deal of criticism for making this case, I thought most critics would attack both the verbal distinctions I made as well as my lack of Greek knowledge. My lack of Greek, after all, is why I rarely tackle issues that deal with subjects that have their primary sources written in Greek (the Nicene Creed in this case). Nonetheless, I decided to write about the filioque in both a limited fashion and as someone who depends heavily on secondary scholarship for my discussion of the Greek language. Therefore, it was to my surprise that virtually none of the criticisms waged against me were on these fronts. Rather, the criticisms were pertained to Augustine’s exegesis and the scope of my initial post.

The first major criticism that I received was against Augustine’s exegesis of John 16:15, which says, “All things that the Father has are mine.” This critic argues that if this verse is used to argue that the Son must have a causal role in the procession, because such is a property of the Father, then so too the argument runs that the Son must have a role in his own begetting, because that too is a property of the Father. Such a conclusion, however, no Christian would endorse. It is too ridiculous on its face.

What this first critic has failed to realize, as I argued at length, is that Augustine does not understand this verse as pertaining to hypostatic causal origin. Augustine used this verse to justify the claim that there is an eternal relationship between the Son and the Holy Spirit. Now Augustine framed this relationship by saying that the Holy Spirit proceeds principally from the Father and communitively from both the Father and the Son. To briefly recapitulate what I explained in much more detail in my previous post (see here), when Augustine says that the Holy Spirit proceeds principally from the Father, he is using the Latin verb for procession (procedere) to denote the ultimate and sole cause of the Holy Spirit – in this case the Father alone. Meanwhile, when he says that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son communitively, he is using the Latin verb procedere to denote an eternal sending or manifestation of the Holy Spirit that carries no ultimate causal sense whatsoever. This point becomes evermore clear in another passage of the De Trinitate:

Si enim quidquid habet, de Patre habet Filius; de Patre habet utique ut et de illo procedat Spiritus sanctus…. Pater enim solus non est de alio, ideo solus appellatur ingenitus, non quidem in Scipturis, sed in consuetudine disputantium, et de re tanta sermonem qualem valuerint proferentium. Filius autem de Patre natus est: et Spiritus sanctus de Patre principaliter, et ipso sine ullo temporis intervallo dante, communiter de utroque procedit.

Indeed, if whatever the Son has he has from the Father (John 16:15), then certainly the Son has from the Father that the Holy Spirit proceeds from he the Son himself…. Indeed, the Father alone is not from another, and therefore He alone is called unbegotten, not indeed in the Scriptures, but in the usage of disputants, who employ such language as they can on so great a subject. And the Son is begotten of the Father; and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father principally (principaliter), and without giving any interval of time, the Holy Spirit proceeds from both communitively (communiter).

Note: This translation is borrowed from New Advent and I have slightly modified its translation.

Augustine of Hippo, De Trinitate, Book XV, Chapter 26, Section 47 PL 42: 1094-1095

Here Augustine distinguishes the Father as the sole cause of the Holy Spirit by using the adverb principaliter. The procession from both the Father and the Son is a separate matter because this procession occurs communitively (communiter). One must remember that the Latin verb procedere has a wide variation of meanings, whereas the original Greek verb of ἐκπόρευσις has one specific meaning denoting ultimate causal origin. For this reason, Augustine used the two adverbs – principaliter and communiter – to specify his intended meanings. What Augustine means by this communitive procession is that in a relative perspective, not an absolute causal perspective, the Holy Spirit progresses forth from both. It is this communitive procession that the filioque formula specifically denotes and none other. The filioque does not specifically denote the causal origin of the divine person of the Holy Spirit (see my handy-dandy filioque chart below). To briefly stray from St. Augustine, this distinction, which I ask that my Orthodox readers strain in charity to understand, is all the more clear in the personal commentary of Christian Stavelot on the Gospel of John, in which he says:

A patre procedit, et ego mittam. Unum est, quia procedit a Patre et Filio.

The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and I will send the Holy Spirit.” (John 15:16) The Holy Spirit is one because the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.

Christian Stavelot, Expositiuncula in Joannem evangelistam PL 106: 1519A-1519B

Here Christian quotes John 15:16, which details the causal origin (procedere) of the Holy Spirit and then the sending (mittere) of Holy Spirit by Jesus. Now, keep in mind that in Latin, the verb procedere has multiple definitions. It can denote cause (procedere) or it can simply denote a progression or a sending forth (procedere) just like the verb mittere means specifically and only. The point that both Christian and Augustine are trying to highlight is that there is an eternal relationship between the Holy Spirit and the Son, hence a relationship between all three divine persons beyond just their essence, and therefore further highlighting the unity of the Godhead.

With this brief summary and clarification of Augustine’s position in mind, the first critic’s argument does not carry weight. The first critic’s argument relies on the assumption that Augustine is reading John 16:15 as pertaining to the causal origin of the divine persons. But Augustine is not reading it in the causal sense, he is reading it in a relational sense. So the argument – that Augustine is arguing that the Son is a second cause and therefore by such logic the Son must also be a second cause in his own begetting – holds no water whatsoever, because John 16:15 is not speaking about causes. This point is further demonstrated elsewhere in Augustine’s writings, as I detail in my previous post on the matter (see here), where Augustine clearly denotes the Father as the sole cause of the divine persons of the Holy Spirit and the Son. Now I realize that this point is difficult to follow because most people tend to lack basic Latin comprehension and reading skills. It is because of this lack of Latin comprehension on the part of so many, Catholics and Orthodox included, that I firmly believe in using the per Filium formula endorsed by Patriarch Tarasius of Constantinople at the Second Council of Nicaea (787) or using the formula endorsed by the Orthodox Synod of Blachernae (1285) under Patriarch Gregory II of Constantinople, which said that the Holy Spirit proceeds (ἐκπόρευσις) from the Father and is eternally manifested through the Son (ἀΐδιον ἔκφανσιν) (Siecienski, 140-143). By using either of these formulas, both the eternal relationship between the Son and the Holy Spirit, which is what the filioque was solely denoting in Augustine’s framework (and having nothing to do with cause), and the Father as the ultimate sole cause of the Holy Spirit, which is what the Nicene Creed was denoting originally before the Latin churches modified it, are both clearly articulated without making anymore confusion.

To repeat: What the Son has, according to Augustine, is not the Father’s ability to cause the divine person of the Holy Spirit. That property belongs to the Father alone, hence Augustine uses the adverb principaliter in conjunction with the verb procedere. What the Son actually has, according to John 16:15 is an eternal relationship with the Holy Spirit – a pouring forth if you will, which the Father also has (hence the adverb communiter in conjunction with the verb procedere). To use an analogy, as imperfect as they may be, like a spring with a stream, water can be said to flow forth from both the spring and the stream (communiter). However, water cannot be said to have its cause from both the the spring and the stream. Rather, only the spring can be said to be the cause of the water (principaliter).

As the eminent Orthodox philosopher David Bentley Hart notes, the core idea here is the exact same as that articulated by Saint Gregory of Nyssa, who wrote:

… while confessing the immutability of the [divine] nature, we do not deny difference in regard to cause and that which is caused, by which alone we discern the difference of each Person from the other, in that we believe one to be the cause and another to be from the cause; and again we conceive of another difference within that which is from the cause: between the one who, on the one hand, comes directly from the principle and the one who, on the other, comes from the principle through the one who arises directly; thus it unquestionably remains peculiar to the Son to be the Only Begotten, while at the same time it is not to be doubted that the Spirit is of the Father, by virtue of the mediation of the Son that safeguards the Son’s character as Only Begotten, and thus the Spirit is not excluded from his natural relation to the Father.

Note: This excerpt is taken from David Bentley Hart’s article, “The Myth of Schism.”

– Gregory of Nyssa, Ad Ablabium, 55-56

Hart goes on to say, “This is the very argument—made by Augustine in De Trinitate—that scores of Orthodox theologians in recent decades have denounced as entirely alien to Eastern tradition.”  This opinion I entirely agree with.

Now, a second critic has argued that I was remarkably selective with my sources – that is I only really discussed St. Augustine’s articulation of the filioque and not the countless other Latin articulations of it. I believe I addressed this concern in my initial post. To quote what I said:

I am going to be very precise and narrow in my treatment of this issue here, because after all to treat such a massive issue in a single blog post would be too great a task for me and demand too much time – time which I do not have. For those who desire a more expansive overview of the subject with more history than I offer here, I suggest reading Michael Lofton’s blog post on some of the major divisions between Eastern Orthodoxy and Catholicism or A. Edward Siecienski’s The Filioque: History of a Doctrinal Controversy. The parameters of this brief address will pertain solely to what Saint Augustine of Hippo said concerning the matter.

This second critic then went on to add the following, saying:

And yet regardless of Augustine or Aquinas, this is the dogma of the Roman Church as per the 6th session of Florence, 6 July 1439 AD: “that the holy Spirit is eternally from the Father and the Son, and has his essence and his subsistent being from the Father together with the Son, and proceeds from both eternally as from one principle and a single spiration. We declare that when holy doctors and fathers say that the holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son, this bears the sense that thereby also the Son should be signified, according to the Greeks indeed as cause, and according to the Latins as principle of the subsistence of the holy Spirit, just like the Father. And since the Father gave to his only-begotten Son in begetting him everything the Father has, except to be the Father, so the Son has eternally from the Father, by whom he was eternally begotten, this also, namely that the holy Spirit proceeds from the Son.”

I am not going to comment on the problems I have with the Council of Florence (1439), which are numerous. Why? Because, as I said before, I do not have that much time. But again, I anticipated this general point and wrote: 

Third, there remains the question that even if Augustine’s Trinitarian formula is Orthodox, whether if all of the other Latin theologians and council’s understandings of the filioque are orthodox. To this question, I will not comment any further, other than the fact that I think it is incumbent upon Orthodox to be charitable and presume at first glance that any proclamation of filioque in a Latin author’s work should be read in a precise Augustinian sense. Only when there is language that seems to indicate otherwise, should suspicion begin to arise.

A Quick Handy-Dandy Filioque Formula Chart

The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father principally (principaliter), and without giving any interval of time, the Holy Spirit proceeds from both communitively (communiter). What it denotes: In two separate thoughts, it denotes the causal origin of the Holy Spirit, then it denotes the relationship between the divine persons of the Father, Son, & Holy Spirit between one another without referring specifically to cause.

The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son. What it denotes: In a single thought, it denotes both the cause of the Holy Spirit as well as the Holy Spirit’s non-causal relationship with the Son.

The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. (ie: traditional filioque clause later inserted into the Nicene Creed). What it denotes: In a single thought, it refers to the eternal relationship between the divine persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – specifically showing that there is an eternal relationship between the Son and the Holy Spirit. It emphatically does not refer to any cause, because that is not the intention whatsoever of this formula. It carries the same weight and meaning as St. Augustine’s communitive procession (communiter).

Bibliography & Further Reading

David Bentley Hart, “The Myth of Schism,” Clarion Journal, June 13, 2014,

A. Edward Siecienski, The Filioque: History of a Doctrinal Controversy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010)

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The Filioque: A Brief Opinion


St Gall, Stiftsbibliothek MS 382, p. 10 – Nicene Creed in Greek and Latin (mid-tenth or early eleventh century)

My position on the filioque, a clause that a number of Latin churches added to the Nicene Creed over the course of five centuries and which many Latin writers and saints had professed in other genres of writing for many centuries prior to its insertion anywhere, is that I do not think it is unorthodox, because precisely what the filioque expresses, unlike the Nicene Creed in its original Greek, is not a matter of God the Father being the ultimate cause of the Trinity. I am going to be very precise and narrow in my treatment of this issue here, because after all to treat such a massive issue in a single blog post would be too great a task for me and demand too much time – time which I do not have. For those who desire a more expansive overview of the subject with more history than I offer here, I suggest reading Michael Lofton’s blog post on some of the major divisions between Eastern Orthodoxy and Catholicism or A. Edward Siecienski’s The Filioque: History of a Doctrinal Controversy. The parameters of this brief address will pertain solely to what Saint Augustine of Hippo said concerning the matter.

In his De Trinitate, Augustine said the following about the Holy Trinity:

Principium quomodo in Trinitate relative dicatur. Dicitur ergo relative Pater, idemque relative dicitur principium, et si quid forte aliud: sed Pater ad Filium dicitur, principium vero ad omnia quae ab ipso sunt. Item dicitur relative Filius, relative dicitur et Verbum et Imago; et in omnibus his vocabulis ad Patrem refertur: nihil autem horum Pater dicitur. Et principium dicitur Filius: cum enim diceretur ei, Tu quis es? respondit, Principium, qui et loquor vobis (Joan. VIII, 25). Sed numquid Patris principium? Creatorem se quippe ostendere voluit, cum se dixit esse principium; sicut et Pater principium est creaturae, eo quod ab ipso sunt omnia. Nam et creator relative dicitur ad creaturam, sicut dominus ad servum. Et ideo cum dicimus, et Patrem principium, et Filium principium, non duo principia creaturae dicimus; quia et Pater et Filius simul ad creaturam unum principium est, sicut unus creator, sicut unus Deus.

The Father is called so, therefore, relatively, and He is also relatively said to be the Principle, and whatever else there may be of the kind; but He is called the Father in relation to the Son, the Principle in relation to all things, which are from Him. So the Son is relatively so called; He is called also relatively the Word and the Image. And in all these appellations He is referred to the Father, but the Father is called by none of them. And the Son is also called the Principle; for when it was said to Him, Who are You?” He replied, Even the Principle, who also speak to you.” (John 8:25) But is He, pray, the Principle of the Father? For He intended to show Himself to be the Creator when He said that He was the Principle, as the Father also is the Principle of the creature in that all things are from Him. For creator, too, is spoken relatively to creature, as master to servant. And so when we say, both that the Father is the Principle, and that the Son is the Principle, we do not speak of two principles of the creature; since both the Father and the Son together is one principle in respect to the creature, as one Creator, as one God.

Note: This translation is borrowed from New Advent and I have slightly revised its translation.

– Augustine of Hippo, De Trinitate, Book V, Chapter 13, Section 14 PL 42: 0920

Now, the main point to highlight here is that Augustine is speaking of principle in relative terms. That is to say, God the Father and God the Son are both the same principle relative to creation, for as John says, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God. And the word was God. This Word was in the beginning with God. Everything was made through Him and without Him there was nothing made that was made.” (John 1:1-3) It is in this relative sense then, that God the Father and God the Son are both, relative to creation, one principle.

Now elsewhere Augustine speaks of principle in an absolute sense, not a relative sense, as he does in the segment above. It is in this absolute sense that Augustine identifies the Father as the sole and ultimate cause of both the Son and the Holy Spirit. He says:

Et tamen non frustra in hac Trinitate non dicitur Verbum Dei nisi Filius, nec Donum Dei nisi Spiritus sanctus, nec de quo genitum est Verbum et de quo procedit principaliter Spiritus sanctus nisi Deus Pater. Ideo autem addidi, Principaliter, quia et de Filio Spiritus sanctus procedere reperitur. Sed hoc quoque illi Pater dedit, non jam existenti et nondum habenti: sed quidquid unigenito Verbo dedit, gignendo dedit.

And yet it is not to no purpose that in this Trinity that none except the Son is called the Word of God, and that none except the Holy Spirit is called the Gift of God, and that none except God the Father is He from whom the Word is begotten as well as from whom the Holy Spirit principally proceeds. And therefore I have added the word principally, because we find that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son also. But the Father gave Him this too, not as to one already existing, and not yet having it; but whatever He gave to the only-begotten Word, He gave by begetting Him. (John 16:15)

Note: This translation is borrowed from New Advent and I have slightly modified its translation.

Augustine of Hippo, De Trinitate, Book XV, Chapter 17, Section 29 PL 42: 1081

Augustine here argues that the Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son, but it is only from the Father that the Holy Spirit proceeds principally. In short, the Holy Spirit has its ultimate cause from the Father alone, whereas it proceeds from the Son relatively because the Son was begotten of the Father and has what the Father has. This idea, at least in this passage, is implicitly based upon John 16:15, where Christ says, “All things that the Father has are mine.” Augustine, perhaps more clearly, argues this relative procession from both the Father and the Son later again:

Filius autem de Patre natus est: et Spiritus sanctus de Patre principaliter, et ipso sine ullo temporis intervallo dante, communiter de utroque procedit.

But the Son is begotten from the Father: and the Holy Spirit proceeds principally from the Father, and without any intervening rendering of time itself, the Holy Spirit proceeds communitively from both.

Augustine of Hippo, De Trinitate, Book XV, Chapter 26, Section 47 PL 42: 1095

To be clear, Augustine here is not claiming the Son to be the absolute sole cause or even a secondary cause to the Trinity. When he speaks of the Holy Spirit as proceeding principally from the Father, he is speaking in an absolute sense in that the Father is the ultimate and sole cause of the Holy Spirit. But when he turns to the communitive/relative procession (communiter), he is not speaking of an ultimate or sole cause whatsoever. Rather, he is saying that the Holy Spirit has its hypostatic origin most perfectly from the Father alone, but that the Holy Spirit also proceeds in a communitive/relative sense from both, because what the Father has the Son has and thus there is by necessity an eternal joint progression from the Father and the Son – a progression that is quite distinct in its intent and meaning from a procession of ultimate and sole cause. It is only in this communitive/relative sense that the Father and the Son can be understood to be one principle. In an absolute sense, however, they cannot be understood to be one principle. Only the Father is the principle in the absolute sense. To misunderstand this point is to commit a linguistic error, a tragedy of poor Latin skills.

Now there are a multitude of remaining issues with Augustine’s formulation. First, there is the issue of Latin theology’s use of procedere, that is the verb for procession. Procedere has a much wider range in meaning in Latin than any of the near equivalent verbs in Greek, as A. Siecienski well argues in his book (Note: My arguments here depend heavily upon Siecienski’s verbal distinctions, as I have no knowledge of Greek). The Greek verb ἐκπόρευσις used in the Nicene Creed came to denote solely the ultimate hypostatic origin of the Holy Spirit. Meanwhile, procedere can mean either what ἐκπόρευσις means or denote a relative relationship or a mere sending (mittere). So when Latin Christians began to speak of ex Patre et Filio procedentem or, as they later add to the Nicene Creed, ex Patre Filioque procedit, they necessarily changed the original intent of the Nicene Creed. They changed this passage of the Nicene Creed from the intent of defining the sole hypostatic cause of the Holy Spirit to the intent of showing the relative divine and personal relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. From an Eastern Orthodox perspective, this shift is strange indeed, especially since just a few lines prior in the Nicene Creed, the Son’s begotteness, that is Filium Dei unigenitum, remains concerned with the original intent of establishing God the Father as the ultimate and sole cause of the Son. Nonetheless, the Latins made this change to suit their own theological and liturgical concerns, namely against various forms of lingering Arianism.

Now it bears worth mentioning that many Latin Orthodox Christians, just as how many of their fellow Greek Orthodox Christians, probably did not fully realize this change in intent, as the manuscript image from St. Gall above containing both the Latin and Greek versions of the Nicene Creed indicates. In this particular manuscript, the Latin scribe translated the Latin filioque formula into the Greek but he kept the Greek verb ἐκπόρευσις for the procession. This usage is clearly unorthodox, as it technically describes a double procession from both the Father and the Son as the ultimate causes of the Holy Spirit. I do not think the scribe intended this meaning. It is more probable that his Greek was not up to snuff to grasp what the original intent of the Nicene Creed was in Greek. As the work of Bernice M. Kaczynski demonstrates, the degree of Greek knowledge that the monks at St. Gall had did not go beyond mere vocabulary lists. They rarely had intimate knowledge of basic Greek grammar (Kaczynski, 115-116). The scribe probably thought ἐκπόρευσις had the same variation of meanings as procedere, which by this time it most certainly did not. I am being charitable here for a reason. After all, centuries prior, Saint Maximus the Confessor defended Pope Saint Theodore I of Rome, a native Greek no less, from accusers for making a similar mistranslation in his creedal statement (Siecienski, 78-84).

Second, there is the issue of whether the Son’s relationship with the Holy Spirit defined as proceeding/sending (procedere/mittere) relates to the economy of salvation only, that is within time, or if it relates to the eternal and timeless dynamic between the divine persons. In the former case, the Holy Spirit can only be said to be sent by the Son just before his ascension in John 20:22, where he says, “Receive the Holy Spirit!” Many Eastern Orthodox have traditionally interpreted this verse as having only pertained to the economic/temporal sending of the Holy Spirit and have been reluctant to read an economic description of the Trinity into an eternal/theological description of the Trinity. I myself do not share these concerns, primarily for the same reasons that the Orthodox philosopher David Bentley Hart does not share them. Many other Orthodox writers have argued that there is indeed an eternal relationship between the Son and the Holy Spirit, although perhaps not using John 20:22 as their basis. One such example is Patriarch Gregory II of Constantinople, who in his writings and through the Synod of Blachernae (1285) argued that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father alone (ἐκπόρευσις) and is manifested eternally through the Son (Siecienski, 140-143). This formulation is substantially the same as Saint Augustine’s, although it might be argued it is more clear and less prone to confusion.

Third, there remains the question that even if Augustine’s Trinitarian formula is Orthodox, whether if all of the other Latin theologians and council’s understandings of the filioque are orthodox. To this question, I will not comment any further, other than the fact that I think it is incumbent upon Orthodox to be charitable and presume at first glance that any proclamation of filioque in a Latin author’s work should be read in a precise Augustinian sense. Only when there is language that seems to indicate otherwise, should suspicion begin to arise.

Lastly, there is the problem that the Latin churches added the filioque unilaterally. No one denies this fact. The Church of Rome adding it in the eleventh century by far had the most significant impact upon the relationship between the Latin and Eastern churches. Ostensibly, Rome added it because of its developing self-understanding of papal supremacy. In the papal supremacist view, the pope of Rome could add it unilaterally without consulting an ecumenical council. However, the Visigothic and Frankish churches had long added the filioque many centuries prior, regardless of the objections of the Eastern churches and the Church of Rome. This much is certain, as exhibited in the plethora of baptismal formulas found in the early ninth century (see Keefe) – whether it be professed in a modified Nicene Creed or the so-called Athanasian Creed. Those additions and professions were not the result of papal supremacy, and often ran against papal wishes. Therefore, in the event of a reunion between the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic churches, Eastern Orthodox face a tough question pertaining to the filioque. If the Orthodox were demand that it be removed from the Latin version of the Nicene Creed, then it would certainly be a rebuttal of papal unilateralism, but it would also be a rejection of a Latin liturgical tradition that long predates 1054 and the gradual schism. As argued above, I do not think the content of the filioque is heretical, but rather orthodox. So to alter a long-held liturgical and theological tradition on the basis of technical violations of canon law, which had occurred for centuries prior to the beginnings of the schism, seems to me to be against the spirit of Orthodoxy’s liturgical and theological conservatism, and possibly even an implicit proclamation that only the Greek tradition of Orthodoxy is Orthodox. There are no good answers to this dilemma. If anything, it might be possible to remove the filioque from the Latin version of the Nicene Creed and to add to both creeds the ex Patre per Filium procedentem formula to both the Latin and Greek versions of the Nicene Creed. Patriarch Tarasius of Consantinople used the per Filium formula at the Second Council of Nicaea (787) to describe his own faith. In that sense, the Orthodox find the exactitude and precision that that would have prevented this mess to begin with, while the Catholics get to keep their liturgical and theological tradition. This measure would mean changing the language of both traditions, but at the same time it would keep the spirit of the two traditions under the umbrella of Orthodoxy.

Bibliography & Further Reading

David Bentley Hart, “The Myth of Schism,” Clarion Journal, June 13, 2014,

Bernice M. Kaczynski, Greek in the Carolingian Age: The St. Gall Manuscripts (Cambridge, MA: The Medieval Academy of America, 1988)

Susan A. Keefe, Water and the Word: Baptism and the Education of the Clergy in the Carolingian Empire, vol. 2 (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2002)

Michael Lofton, “The Road to Unity: The Obstacles to Full Unity between Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians,” Reason and Theology, February 14, 2019,

John Mendham, trans., The Seventh General Council (London: William Edward Painter, 1850)

A. Edward Siecienski, The Filioque: History of a Doctrinal Controversy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010)

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Brief Comments on David Bentley Hart’s Article Concerning the Lord’s Prayer

Recently Professor David Bentley Hart has published an article on the Lord’s Prayer found in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4. I quite enjoyed the article for its thought-provoking critique of the many present-day Christians, who do not adequately acknowledge the historical economic factors it speaks to and its continuing moral relevance to today’s conditions of the poor. Hart attributes this lack of consciousness of many present-day Christians to either translation errors or habits of interpretation. I am inclined to agree, although my own lack of knowledge of Greek prevents me from fully grasping the depth of Hart’s argument. Yet I am also inclined to disagree on some points. First, Hart seems to dismiss the legitimacy of the spiritual readings of the text. He goes as far to refer to these interpretations as “‘spiritualized'”. At first it is difficult understand what Hart exactly means to convey by putting “spiritualized” in quotation marks. However, towards the end of the article it seems apparent that he does not grant them much credence whatsoever. He writes:

It is easy to understand, obviously, how it is that over the centuries the Lord’s Prayer should have come to be something else in the Christian imagination—something less specific, less concrete, more comprehensive, more unrelated to any specific economic conditions or any particular station in society.

It could scarcely have served as a model of Christian supplication for all the baptized if its social provocations had remained too transparent, or if it had remained too obviously an epitome of Christ’s “preferential option” for the destitute and disenfranchised. After all, the consciences of the rich require protection too. How else could the banker who has just foreclosed on a family home recite the Lord’s Prayer in church without being made to feel uncomfortable?

Even so, it was originally, and remains, a prayer for the poor—a prayer, that is, for the poor alone to pray. Down the centuries, wealthy Christians have prayed it as well, of course, or at least have prayed a rough simulacrum of it. God bless them for their faithfulness. But, to be honest, it was never meant for them. Quite—one has to be honest here—the opposite.

In short, only the historical or literal understanding of the prayer is its true meaning. All of the spiritual exegeses on this prayer were the outcomes of appeasing the rich or, to put it more nicely, acts of pastoral condescension. This point leads him, therefore, to the second point of my disagreement – that the Lord’s prayer is exclusively intended for the poor. There is much fruit to these spiritual readings of the Lord’s Prayer and in light of Galatians 3:28, which declares an obliteration of the boundaries between slaves and freemen – positions framed by both economic and legal factors – , it would seem unlikely that God ever would have given such an important prayer, central to the liturgical life of the Church, to the poor alone. Furthermore, let it be said, the prayer does include the presumption that those who have debtors should forgive their debtors. That mandate would include the rich as well. Again, I am not rejecting Hart’s argument that this prayer spoke to the economic conditions of the poor during Christ’s time and continues to have moral and economic ramifications for us today. But what I am advocating is that the prayer can be understood in many different ways. While one might find these different understandings to be impoverished or lacking, I think it is well-worth the time to take a brief look at what these different interpretations were and to examine their scopes and limitations.

David Graeber, whom Hart praises in the beginning of his article, briefly discusses the Lord’s Prayer and Christ’s language on debt and debtors as potentially both literal and allegorical. Indeed, Graeber writes:

The parable has long been a challenge to theologians. It’s normally interpreted as a comment on the endless bounty of God’s grace and how little He demands of us in comparison – and thus, by implication, as a way of suggesting that torturing us in hell for all eternity is not as unreasonable as it might seem. Certainly, the unforgiving servant is a genuinely odious character. Still, what is even more striking to me is the tacit suggestion that forgiveness, in this world, is ultimately impossible. Christians practically say as much every time they recite the Lord’s Prayer and ask God to “forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors.” It repeats the story of the parable almost exactly, and the implications are similarly dire. After all, most Christians reciting the prayer are aware that they do not generally forgive their debtors. Why then should God forgive them their sins?

What’s more, there is the lingering suggestion that we really couldn’t live up to those standards even if we tried. One of the things that makes the Jesus of the New Testament such a tantalizing character is that it’s never clear what he’s telling us. Everything can be read two ways. When he calls on his followers to forgive all debts, refuse to case the first stone, turn the other cheek, love their enemies, to hand over their possessions to the poor – is he really expecting them to do this? Or are such demands just a way of throwing in their faces that, since we are clearly not prepared to act this way, we are all sinners whose salvation can only come in another world – a position that can be (and has been) used to justify almost anything? This is a vision of human life as inherently corrupt, but it also frames even the spiritual affairs in commercial terms: with calculations of sins, penance, and absolution, the Devil and St. Peter with their rival ledger books, usually accompanied by the creeping feeling that it’s all a charade because the very fact that we are reduced to playing such a game of tabulating sins reveals us to be fundamentally unworthy of forgiveness.

– David Graeber, Debt: The First 5,000 Years (Brooklyn, NY: Melville House Publishing, 2011), 84

Graeber’s willingness to permit multiple interpretations of Christ’s mandate echoes how the Church Fathers interpreted it the first millennium. During the fourth century, St. Jerome understood the Lord’s Prayer in a spiritual and literal sense. He based his spiritual interpretation of the text on his own reasons of translations, having knowledge of Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. He wrote the following:

Give us today our supersubstantial bread. And dismiss our debts from us!; just as also we dismiss our debtors. And lead us not into temptation. But deliver us from evil!” (Matthew 6:11-13) What we have expressed with “supersubstantial,” in Greek is called ἐπιούσιον – a word that the Septuagint translators most frequently translated as περιούσιον. Therefore, we have considered [this] in Hebrew, and everywhere that they have expressed περιούσιον, we have found SOGOLLA, which Symmachus translated as ἐξαίρετον, that is, “especial” or “distinguished,” although in a certain place it has been understood as “private.” Therefore, when we ask that God gives us especial or distinguished bread, we seek that which he calls, “I am the living bread which descends from heaven (John 6:51).” In the Gospel, which is called According to the Hebrews, for supersubstantial bread, MAAR is found, which is called “tomorrow;” so that it is understood [as], “Our tomorrow-bread,” that is the future, “give us today.” We are able to understand the bread also in another way – what is above all substances and what surpasses all creatures. Others simply think according to the words of the Apostles concerning some present food that the saints bear a consideration, saying, “We, having sustenance and clothes, are satisfied with these things” (1 Timothy 6:8). And whence in the following things, it has been advised, “Do not wish to think about tomorrow!” (Matthew 6:34).

Jerome, Commentariorum in evangelium Matthaei libri quattuor, PL 26: 0043A-0043C

– Jerome, Commentarii in euangelium Matthaei, edited by D. Hurst and M. Adriaen, CCSL 77 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1969), 37.769-787

I am in no position to scrutinize the accuracy of Jerome’s Greek or Hebrew/Aramaic. Such matters I leave to others. However, what is abundantly clear is that Jerome never concerned himself with sparing the feelings of the rich when he considered the various interpretations and translations of the Lord’s Prayer. For Jerome, the choice between a literal or historical understanding of the text and a spiritual understanding of the text is not an either-or decision. Both are valid. In terms of the spiritual understanding of the Lord’s Prayer, much of his reasoning is based primarily on translation considerations alone. But there is also another component to his decision making here insofar that he is referencing how the word is used, not in its contemporary context, but in the scriptures as a whole – namely the translators of the Septuagint from the third and second centuries BCE and Symmachus’ second-century CE translation of the Old Testament into Greek from the Hebrew. It is true that Jerome misses the historical circumstances of which Jesus is speaking to and which Hart has highlighted. Nevertheless, Jerome still highlights the moral necessity of living modestly, taking only what we need to live for today, although he himself says nothing about the subject of forgiving debts nor does his literal understanding of the prayer align perfectly with the historical understanding that Hart highlights. In this sense, Jerome falls short of the radical message Hart highlights in his article.

Writing in the early eighth century, St. Bede also made the same general distinction as St. Jerome – that the Lord’s Prayer has both a literal and a spiritual meaning. He wrote:

With the Gospel of Matthew, the Lord’s Prayer seems to contain seven petitions, of which three are sought in eternal matters, the remaining four in temporal matters, which, notwithstanding eternal matters, must be followed by necessity. For the fact that we say, “Let your name be sanctified. Let your kingdom come. Let your will be done just as in heaven and on the earth.” This no one has absurdly understood as that these prayers must be retained altogether without any limit in spirit and body [i.e. spiritually and literally], and in which case these interpretations are unfinished, and as much as we profit [from them], they are magnified in us by means of having been completed. But what ought to be hoped for in another life, will be possessed forever. But the fact [is] that we say, “Give us today our daily bread; and forgive us our debts! And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil!” Does no one see that it pertains to the want (indigentiam) of the present life? And thus in that eternal life, when we always hope for future things, the sanctification of God’s name, the sanctification of his kingdom, and his will will remain perfectly and immortally in our spirit and body. But therefore, the bread has been called daily, because this [bread], which is to be given to the soul and body, is necessary. Let it be understood either spiritually, corporeally [i.e. literally], or in both ways.

Bede, In Lucae evangelium expositio, PL 92: 0472B-0472D

– Bede, In Lucae euangelium expositio, edited by D. Hurst, CCSL 120 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2001).

Bede here is clearly more interested in the spiritual understanding of the Lord’s Prayer. Nonetheless, he openly acknowledges its literal meaning. When considering the words, “Give us today our daily bread,” he argues that it pertains to the need or indigentia of our earthly existence. This indigentia he argues can be understood at the literal level as our bodily needs, such as food, or at the spiritual level as our present need of our desire and hope for spiritual solace as well as a better life. By perfectly encapsulating the consequences of the Fall in both body and spirit with the term indigentia, Bede perhaps meshes together the spiritual and literal reading of the text more than any other Latin commentator.

Writing in the ninth century, St. Hrabanus Maurus returns to the more bifurcated spiritual and literal readings of the text that Jerome had embraced. Yet, he distinguishes himself from Jerome by adding further comments specifically on the notion of debts. He wrote:

Give us today our daily bread.” (Matthew 6:11). Daily bread has been said [to be] either for all things which sustain the necessity of this [earthly] life concerning which he instructs when he says, “Do not wish think about tomorrow!” (Matthew 6:34); or for the sacrament of the body of Christ, which we receive daily; or for the spiritual food, concerning which the Lord says, “Toil for food, which is not corrupted!” (John 6:27). And [he also says] this: “I am the bread of life, which descends from heaven” (John 6:41)…. “And dismiss our debts from us!; just as we dismiss our debtors” (Matthew 6:12).  After the assistance of food is sought, the mercy for having transgressed is sought in order that he, who is fed by God, lives in God. If sins should be remitted, not only [something]of the present and temporal life would be consulted, but also [something] of the eternal [life], towards which he is capable of being made to come, would be consulted. What the Lord calls debts [are sins], just as in his Gospel he says, “I forgave you the entire debt, because you sought me” (Matthew 18:32).

Hrabanus Maurus, Commentariorum in Matthaeum libri octo, PL 107: 0819C-0820B

– Hrabanus Maurus, Commentarius in Matthaeum I-IV, edited by B. Löfstedt, CCCM 174 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2001).

What is interesting about Hrabanus’ commentary is that although he acknowledges both a literal and spiritual understanding of the daily bread like Jerome and Bede before him, he only acknowledges a spiritual understanding of the forgiveness of debts, which he interprets as meaning sins. Here the economic message is lost. Nonetheless, Hrabanus still acknowledges, just as Jerome, Christ’s admonishment against luxurious living and gluttony. It is for this reason that he repeats Matthew 6:34, “Do not wish to think about tomorrow!,” as if saying that one should not have too much and take only what they need. I say “as if” because Hrabanus leaves out Jerome’s quotation of 1 Timothy 6:8, but it is quite clear that he is following in Jerome’s footsteps. Just as in the case with Jerome, however, Hrabanus’ literal understanding of the text differs from Hart’s.

The last example I wish to highlight is St. Paschasius Radbertus’ ninth-century commentary. He follows the track of Jerome more closely than either Bede or Hrabanus, and even takes in an interest in the Greek word ἐπιούσιον that Jerome mentions. But he also adds significant expansions to the exegesis, most of which I will have to pass on highlighting. But for the purposes of this post, what is most interesting in his exegesis is his explicit acknowledgement of debts actually pertaining as much to money as it does to sins. He wrote the following:

However here if it is thought [to be] unclear – about what is called debts or what is called debtors – the stuff of an excuse must be cast away, and that “from every debt” should be fully understood as for committing crimes [against God] as well as for owing a severity of money, with the result that in whatever way your brother has become a debtor to you, this debt you should release. For often as the presumption of those having failed shows us as having been seized by many more slaveries on account of debts, [so too does] pecuniary dishonesty and the theft of avarice. Therefore, just as the means of taking action is present for everyone, individuals ought to loosen the burden of possibilities for their debtors, whom are bound to be oppressed by debts…. But most importantly, the burden of sin, if it is deemed to pertain to us, let us remit spontaneously. Although since legally we occasionally renew the debt of money, we never reject the debt of those having failed for seeking to be freed from our condemnation. Whence it has been commanded in this very Gospel, “When you stand to pray, remit if you have anything against anyone so that your Father, who is in heaven, remits your sins!” (Mark 11:25).

Paschasius Radbertus, Expositio in evangelium Matthaei, PL 120: 0295A-0295C

– Paschasius Radbertus, Expositio in Matheo I-IV, edited by B. Paulus, CCCM 56 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1984), 400.1259-1267.

Paschasius understands the burden of crushing debt to run contrary to the principle of viewing one’s neighbor as a brother. In a sense, perhaps he is acknowledging that such a disparity in a relationship undermines the intended equality that it is supposed to uphold. Therefore, such profit seeking from the denigration of one’s brother is described as a theft of avarice (contrectatio lucri). In this way, Paschasius’ position closely resembles Graeber’s, in which the latter argues that notions of debt are originally intended to be framed as a commercial transaction between equals but in practice often are not or result in a disproportionate inequality. Therefore, some moral boundary is felt to have been transgressed by those subjected to debt (Graeber, 86). He also draws on the implicit idea highlighted by Graeber that because we are unwilling to totally forgive the debts of our brothers, whether they be pecuniary or moral, we are fundamentally unworthy of forgiveness. In short, only God’s grace can redeem us.

Hart is certainly correct that the socio-economic conditions that Christ spoke to when he first uttered the Lord’s Prayer faded in some sense in the Church’s tradition. Nevertheless, to proceed to the assumption that the concern for economic injustice faded too or that the spiritual interpretations were cynical ploys to make the rich feel more comfortable is a bridge too far. Although none of the Church Fathers and saints above precisely grasped the historical and literal context that Hart so eloquently highlights in his recent article, they did nonetheless show a concern for avarice and living modestly. At the same time, they also understood the Lord’s Prayer to pertain to all Christians through a variety of spiritual interpretations. It is on account of these various understandings that one can say or affirm that the Lord’s Prayer is for everyone.

Bibliography & Further Reading

Bede, In Lucae euangelium expositio, edited by D. Hurst, CCSL 120 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2001).

Bede, In Lucae evangelium expositio, PL 92: 0301-634D.

David Graeber, Debt: The First 5,000 Years (Brooklyn, NY: Melville House Publishing, 2011).

David Bentley Hart, “A Prayer for the Poor,” Church Life Journal, June 5, 2018,

Hrabanus Maurus, Commentariorum in Matthaeum libri octo, PL 107: 0727-1156B.

Hrabanus Maurus, Commentarius in Matthaeum I-IV, edited by B. Löfstedt, CCCM 174 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2001).

Jerome, Commentarii in euangelium Matthaei, edited by D. Hurst and M. Adriaen, CCSL 77 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1969).

Jerome, Commentariorum in evangelium Matthaei libri quattuor, PL 26: 0015-218D.

Paschasius Radbertus, Expositio in evangelium Matthaei, PL 120: 0031A-0994C.

Paschasius Radbertus, Expositio in Matheo I-IV, edited by B. Paulus, CCCM 56 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1984).

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Orthodoxy in Contemporary America

A very fine talk from David Bentley Hart at Fordham University, whereby he discusses the current state of Orthodoxy in America regarding the challenges its faces, and the potential solutions, & the risks of those solutions. He begins speaking around 10-11 minutes in. Some things he talks about: the growing contingent of converts in American Orthodoxy, the tendency of converts (particularly from an Evangelical background) to convince themselves that they are “Greek,” the need, challenges, & risk of American Orthodoxy to grow out of its ethnic preservationism, and the need for a unified jurisdiction in America.

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Colin McGinn’s Inborn Knowledge: The Mystery Within

Inborn Knowledge

Colin McGinn’s Inborn Knowledge: The Mystery Within is an excellent monograph concerning the merits of rationalism in area of philosophy of mind, particularly concerning whether the mind is either a blank slate, or if it has innate ideas. Clocking in, so-to-speak, at around a mere one-hundred pages, one could easily be deceived into thinking that McGinn’s book probably does not offer many new insights or clarity for those predisposed towards rationalism, rather than empiricism. Yet such an assumption could not be any further from the truth. McGinn divides his book into four chapters, offering an extremely quick overview of the traditional debate between empiricists and rationalists, an analysis of the problems with empiricism, a positive case for nativism (rationalism), and some quick thoughts on the broader implications of nativism, if true. Despite his convincing argumentation, however, McGinn’s brevity imposes an obscurity on some of his finer points, especially those against empiricism.

While the reader will not find much hard data or scientific studies to support the thesis of nativism, they will discover compelling logical arguments. To begin, McGinn divides empiricism into two camps: the external empiricists and the internal empiricists. The external empiricists are those who believe that ideas derive from external objects themselves, while the internal empiricists are those who hold that ideas derives not from the external objects, but rather from subjective impressions. To refute the former, McGinn runs a thought experiment where an individual hallucinates an experience of new colors or shades of colors which they have never seen before (imagine taking acid or LSD). McGinn argues that the very fact that someone could hallucinate a color in the absence of an actual external object proves that the external objects could not possibly provide by its intrinsic nature the idea to the human brain of that said color or color shade. Therefore, external empiricism must be false. But McGinn also asserts that this thought experiment disproves internal empiricism as well, and it is here that McGinn’s penchant for brevity hinders him. Does not the hallucinatory impression imprint the idea of the color or color shade onto the brain? Why does McGinn rule this possibility out? Crucial to this argument is McGinn’s distinction between impression and stimulus. Unfortunately this distinction is only briefly mentioned during the thought experiment, and only clarified (and emphasized) much later in the book. External objects are properly called stimuli. Meanwhile, the experience that these external objects elicit are properly called impressions. In the circumstances of a hallucination, there are no stimuli, only impressions. These impressions are necessarily produced within the internal structure of the brain. Therefore, the brain must be using its innate structure and ideas to form the impression of these never-experience-before colors or color shades.

Other interesting notions that McGinn proposes is the distinction between two types of innate knowledge. “Unlearned knowledge” and “learned knowledge.” For the former, McGinn proposes that mathematical concepts are innate, but can remain dormant. It is only over time within specific contexts that this “unlearned knowledge” becomes “learned knowledge.” McGinn also references this latter category as “acquired knowledge” which he says is equivalent to Bertrand Russell’s idea of “knowledge by acquaintance.” Towards the end of his book, he makes room for one more category called “creativity” in which he entertains the idea that the mind is capable of generating ideas that did not exist prior. McGinn believes creativity to be quite mysterious, but he is adamant that creativity cannot account for the origin of simple ideas, because the base brain or “blank slate” would simply be too impoverished to exercise this creative faculty to do anything. Therefore, he concludes that creativity can only be accounted for in the formation of complex ideas, although he refrains from going into too many details on how exactly this framework might work.

The creativity category brings up a few slight criticisms. In one of his endnotes, McGinn seems to contradict his thought experiment regarding the missing shade of a color. He asks whether an individual can experience a shade of blue that they have never experienced before AND if the “innate stock of impressions does not include the missing shade.” He continues, “So it appears possible for the mind to generate an impression type of a quality that has been neither observed in external objects nor anticipated by the innate perceptual categories. As I say: puzzling” (pg. 68; fn. 18). Indeed it is puzzling, and it threatens to blur the border between creativity and innate ideas once again. The question can rightly be asked, could not this missing shade which is neither acquired nor innate qualify as a simple idea? Again, later in the book McGinn excludes such a possibility for some compelling reasons, but then why present a scenario where this could be the case? I am not entirely certain why x-shade of blue is necessarily a complex idea. Would it not be just as sensible to argue that the generic category of blue is the more complex one derived from the similarities between the countless shades? Perhaps this quibble is due only to my own ignorance as an amateur and layman, nevertheless, I find the obscurity frustrating. One final criticism is that there could be more evidence in terms of scientific studies for his arguments. I do not think that there is anything particularly wrong with McGinn excluding much of the evidence of the sort, but I think it would have behooved many of his thought experiments if he had done so.

Inborn Knowledge is a fascinating, quick, and dense read on the philosophy of mind from a rationalist perspective. McGinn succinctly lists a number of serious arguments, new and old, against empiricism, while outlining some areas for further study, such as the faculty of creativity. Yet, there are a number of arguments prone to confusion, sometimes never being clarified.  In any case, it is a book well worth reading.

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Divorce & Remarriage in the Latin West: An Addendum

Medieval Marriage

Many months ago, I made a post on the history of divorce and remarriage in the Latin West during the first millennium. In this post, I presented two Church Fathers, six church councils, and four penitential prescriptions that allow for divorce and remarriage in a variety of circumstances. I have received some feedback from various peoples, and I wanted to take the time to both clarify some points, and to add more evidence of Latin permissions for divorce and remarriage. Specifically, I would like to clarify the current academic assessment of Canon 36 of the Synod of Rome (826), add both the Council of Elvira (c. 300) and the Council of Adge (506) as in favor of divorce and remarriage, add more canons from the Council of Compiègne (757), canons from the Penitential of pseudo-Theodore, in addition to the rulings of two popes: Pope Innocent I and Pope Leo I. In short, I am merely adding A LOT more evidence in the assertion that divorce and remarriage in the Latin West was common in the first millennium Church. There are endless droves of Catholic articles out there that assert both the contrary and that the Orthodox Church has deviated from sacred tradition on this issue. Here I hope to blow both of those notions out of the sky.

Before beginning, let me just acknowledge that the following secondary sources have proven invaluable to me for writing this post. I highly recommend that my readers look at them:

Jo-Ann McNamara and Suzanne F. Wemple, “Marriage and Divorce in the Frankish Kingdom,” in Women in Medieval Society, edited by Susan Mosher Stuard (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1976), 95-124.

Rachel Stone, Morality and Masculinity in the Carolingian Empire (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 268-274.

Philip Lyndon Reynolds, Marriage in the Western Church: The Christianization of Marriage During the Patristic and Early Medieval Periods (New York: E. J. Brill, 1994), 173-226.

Note: I used more than the listed pages above from Reynolds, but those listed pages are the most pertinent.

The Synod of Rome (826 AD) Reconsidered

First, let us consider the Synod of Rome, AD 826, which says the following:

De his, qui adhibitam sibi uxorem reliquerunt et aliam sociaverunt. Nulli liceat, excepta causa fornicationis, adhibitam uxorem relinquere et deinde aliam copulare; alioquin transgressorem priori convenit sociari coniugio. Sin autem vir et uxor divertere pro sola religiosa inter se consenserint vita, nullatenus sine conscientia episocopi fiat, ut ab eo singulariter proviso constituantur loco. Nam uxore nolente aut altero eorum etiam pro tali re matrimonium non solvatur.

Forma minor: Nullus excepta causa fornicationis uxorem suam dimittat. Si vero vir et uxor pro religion dividi voluerint, cum consensus episcopi hic faciant. Nam si unus voluerit et alius noluerit, etiam pro tali re matrimonium non solvatur.

Concerning those men, who have divorced [their] married wives and marry another. Let no one, except for the cause of fornication, divorce their married wife and then marry another. Otherwise, it is suitable for the transgressor to be married to the former spouse. If however a man and wife consent to divorce between themselves for the sake of a monastic life, in no way shall it be so without the joint knowledge of the bishop, so that they may be stationed by him in a single prepared location. For [if] due to an unwilling wife or her husband, let it not be dissolved for the sake of the marriage.

Smaller form: Let no one divorce his wife except for the cause of fornication. Truly if a man and a wife wish to separate for [pursuing] a religious life, let them do so with the consent of the bishop here. For if one wishes and another does not wish, let the marriage not be dissolved.

Concilia Romanum, canon 36, MGH, Concilia aevi Karolini, 2.1: 582

First, I have had several people make the claim that this canon only allows for divorce on account of fornication. Such an interpretation is simply not plausible. Every academic work that I have consulted on this matter argues that this canon explicitly allows for remarriage after divorce in cases of adultery. The following citations for this are:

Jo-Ann McNamara and Suzanne F. Wemple, “Marriage and Divorce in the Frankish Kingdom,” in Women in Medieval Society, edited by Susan Mosher Stuard (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1976), 103.

Rachel Stone, Morality and Masculinity in the Carolingian Empire (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 272.

Philip Lyndon Reynolds, Marriage in the Western Church: The Christianization of Marriage During the Patristic and Early Medieval Periods (New York: E. J. Brill, 1994), 187.

In short, there is no reason to understand this canon as permitting only divorce and not both divorce and remarriage. The main verb “licet” applies equally to the infinitive verbs “to divorce” (relinquere) and “to marry” (copulare). To further prove my point, let us look at a church canon that clearly does forbid divorce and remarriage (Council of Paris in 829 AD):

…ut Dominus ait, non sit uxor dimittenda, sed potius sustinenda, et quod hi, qui causa fornicationis dimissis uxoribus suis alias ducunt, Domini sententia adulteri esse notentur,…

As the Lord says, one ought not to divorce [their] wife, but rather support them. And also, those, who having dismissed their wife for the cause of fornication [and] marry another, are denoted by the sentence of the Lord to be adulterers.

Concilium Parisiense, canon 69, MGH, Concilium 2.2: 671.

As you can see, in this canon, it is made clear through precise Latin prose that remarriage after divorce was strictly forbidden. So to make the argument, that the Synod of Rome (826) actually forbids remarriage after divorce, is just pure nonsense. And again, no academic historian has understood this canon to mean that at all.

Council of Elvira (c. 300 AD)

To claim the Council of Elvira as permitting divorce and remarriage might appear as highly perplexing to some. After all, it is commonly used in Catholic apologetics to assert the indissolubility of marriage. For examples, see this blog and another one. I first encountered the argument that Elvira was modest in McNamara & Wemple’s article (McNamara & Wemple, 97-98). I did not think it was modest, so I initially did not place it in the pool of my evidence. However, I later encountered a more interesting argument put forth by Reynolds, who says that Elvira accepted divorce and remarriage but only for men who could prove their wife’s infidelity. In short, it only forbids divorce and remarriage for women (Reynolds, 181). To us modern people, this double standard sounds absolutely ridiculous (and rightfully so). I ask my readers to recall my previous post, where Ambrosiaster explicitly promotes this double standard. Furthermore, most of the canons I presented in my previous post assumed that only men could initiate divorce. Nevertheless, evidence for divorce & remarriage is still evidence, regardless of its sexist imperfections. Now let us look at the series of canons:

VIII: Item feminae, quae nulla praecedente causa, relinquerint viros suos, & se copulaverint alteris, nec in fine accipiant communionem.

IX: Item femina fidelis, quae adulterum maritum reliquerit fidelem & alterum ducit, prohibeatur ne ducat; si duxerit, non prius accipiat communionem, nisi quem reliquerit, prius de saeculo exierit; nisi forte necessitas infirmitatis dare compulerit.

X: Si ea; quam catechumenus reliquit, duxerit maritum, potest ad fontem lavacri admitti. Hoc & circa feminas catechumenas erit observandum. Quod si fuerit fidelis, quae ducitur, ab eo qui uxorem inculpatam reliquit, & cum scierit illum habere uxorem, quam sine causa reliquit; placuit, huic nec in finem dandam esse communionem.

8: Again, women who, having no prior cause, leave their husband and marry another, shall not receive communion unto death.

9: Again, a Christian woman, who divorces [her] adulterous, Christian husband and marries another, is prohibited [from doing so] lest she marry. If she marries, she may not receive communion as before, unless he that she divorces has departed from [this] world; or unless perhaps a force of weakness compels [one] to give [her communion].

10. If a woman, whom a male catechumen has divorced, takes a husband, she is able to be admitted to the fountain of baptism. And this [rule] ought to be observed concerning female catechumens. But if there is a Christian woman, who is married by a man who divorced a guiltless wide and she knows that he had such a wife whom he divorced without cause, then it is suitable for her not to be given communion unto death.

Concilium Eliberitanum, canons 8-10, Mansi 2: 7.

LXV: Si cujus clerici uxor fuerit moechata, & scierit eam maritus suus moechari, & non eam statim projecerit, nec in fine accipiat communionem: ne ab his, qui exemplum bonae conversationis esse debent, ab eis videantur scelerum magisteria procedere.

65: If a cleric’s wife has committed adultery, and he knows that his wife has committed adultery, and he does not immediately reject her, he shall not receive communion unto death: lest from these things, those men who ought to be an example of good association, are seen by some to take part in a wicked magisterium.

Concilium Elberitanum, canon 65, Mansi 2: 16

LXIX: Si quis forte habens uxorem semel fuerit lapsus, placuit, eum quinquennium agere de ea re poenitentiam; & sic reconciliari; nisi necessitas infirmitatis coegerit ante tempus dare communionem. Hoc & circa feminas observandum.

LXX: Si cum conscientia mariti uxor fuerit moechata, placuit, nec in fine dandam esse communionem; si vero eam reliquerit, post decem annos accipiat communionem.

69: If perhaps there is any man having a wife has once lapsed [into adultery], then it is suitable that he perform a five year penance about it and thus be reconciled; unless [of course] the necessity of infirmity compels one to give him communion before the time [of penance is up]. This also ought to be observed by women.

70: If with the joint knowledge a husband’s wife commits adultery, it is suitable that the husband not be given communion unto death. But if he divorces her, he may receive communion after ten years.

Concilium Elberitanum, canons 69-70, Mansi 2: 17

Alright, so now to break it all down. First, I want to bring attention to some striking details present throughout many of these canons regarding those based on sex. Canons 10 and 69 both have the explicit addition that their prescripts apply to men and women. Meanwhile, the other canons do not have this qualifier. Therefore, none of the other canons should be construed as applying to both sexes unless they otherwise explicitly say so.

Canon 8 penalizes only women for leaving their husbands and marrying another without prior cause. Canon 9 further elaborates on women stating that no Christian woman can divorce her Christian husband and marry another even in cases of adultery. If she does marry, she is barred from communion until the death of her first husband or if she nears her deathbed. Notice the fact that this canon does NOT prescribe that she leave her second husband, thus leaving a certain amount of ambiguity.

Canon 10 says that if male Christian catechumen leaves their non-Christian spouse and marries another woman, he is not to be penalized. In fact, he is still to be received into baptism. It then explicitly states that this portion of the canon applies equally to both men and women (Hoc & circa feminas catechumenas erit observandum). But the canon continues with a further stipulation that ONLY applies to women. It goes on to say that a Christian woman, and only a Christian woman, should be penalized for marrying a man who has dismissed his first wife without cause. The man’s faith in this case, does not matter. Here is where things get interesting. Canon 8 has specified that no woman can leave their husbands without prior cause. Canon 9 then makes it more narrow insofar that a woman cannot even remarry, even if her Christian husband has committed adultery. But again, none of these apply to men. So if a man, regardless of faith, dismisses his first wife with legitimate cause, then the Christian woman is NOT guilty of adultery. In short, men can divorce and remarry under some circumstances, but not women. Now, some Catholics and Protestants will attempt to say this this matter only applies because the marriage between an unbaptized individual and a Christian individual is not a sacramental marriage. While this idea might very well be behind part of the reasoning for these canons, it still does not explain the gap that is left for men. Men can still divorce and remarry, even if he and his first wife had a Christian marriage.

Canon 70 strengthens the above interpretation. It states that if a man knows that his wife has committed adultery and he continues to tolerate it, he is to be barred from communion until the end of his life. If, however, he tolerates it for only a little while and then divorces her, he is to be barred from communion for only ten years. The requirements are much harsher for married priests in Canon 65. If a priest’s wife commits adultery even once, then the priest is required to immediately divorce her. He can under no circumstances attempt to work things out with her, because he ought to avoid even the mere appearance of scandal. Meanwhile for the rest of the populace, if the adultery of a spouse occurs not regularly, but only once, then according to Canon 69, the guilty party is permitted to try to work things out with their spouse whom they have harmed. The guilty party is also barred from communion for five years. Yet, it should be noted that neither the guilty party nor the infringed are under obligation to try to work things out, since it is not demanded, but rather only pleasing or suitable (placuit) that they do so. The infringed can initiate a divorce. However, as already stipulated, if the infringed party is the husband, then he can remarry since he has prior cause.

In short, what I have demonstrated thus far about the Council of Elvira (c. 300 AD) is that it does not in any sense uphold the indissolubility of marriage, sacramental or not. Rather it only restricts the circumstances in which divorce and remarriage occur. Women can only remarry if their first husband is either dead or if he was not a Christian when she divorced him with the further provision that her second husband is not a divorcee, who dismissed his first wife on illegitimate grounds. Meanwhile, a Christian man could divorce a Christian woman and then marry another Christian woman, so long as he had prior cause to divorce his first wife. By all means, this council is sexist, but it also stipulates that a sacramental marriage is not indissoluble.

Council of Agde (506 AD)

The Council of Agde was a Visigothic council that occurred in Southern France on September 10, 506 AD, and was overseen by Saint Caesarius of Arles, a Church Father. It stipulated the following:

XXV: Hi vero saeculares, qui coniugale consortium culpa graviore dimittunt vel etiam dimiserunt et nullas causas discidii probabiliter proponentes, propterea sua matrimonia dimittunt, ut aut illicita aut aliena praesumant, si antequam apud episcopos comprovinciales discidii causas dixerint et prius uxores quam iudicio damnenter abiecerint, a communion ecclesiae et sancto populi coetu, pro eo quod fidem et coniugia maculant, excludantur.

25: But these laymen, who end their marriage on account of a grave fault or even if they have already divorced and proffer no probable cause of discord for the sake of ending their marriage so that they might presume to enter into either an illicit marriage or another marriage, let them be excluded from the communion of the church and the holy company of  the people because they defile the faith and marriage; [but only] if they have divorced their former wives before they have given their cause of discord in a tribunal with the provincial bishops.

Concilium Agathense, canon 25, Mansi 8: 329

Concilium Agathense, canon 25, CCSL 148: 204

This canon here is relatively straight forward. If a man wishes to divorce his wife on account of some unspecified grave fault, then he must bring the case before an ecclesiastical tribunal and present his case. If he does not follow this procedure, then he is to be excommunicated. It is implied that the man is permitted to remarry if he is able to prove his case. Furthermore, as Reynolds points out, the canon forbids divorce if the initiate does so in order to contract a new marriage (Reynolds, 184-185). That is to say, the motive for divorce was impure rather than on account of a truly grave fault.

Council of Compiègne Revisited (757 AD)

In my previous post, I offered as evidence Canon 11 of this council which stipulated that if a man’s wife commits adultery with her brother-in-law, then the husband if free to divorce her and marry another. The adulteress and the brother-in-law, however, may not marry. Now I would like to introduce more canons from this council, specifically Canons 16 and 19.

XVI: Si quis vir dimiserit uxorem suam et dederit comiatum pro religionis causa infra monasterium Deo servire aut foras monasterium dederit licentiam velare, sicut diximus propter Deum, vir illius accipiat mulierem legittimam. Similiter et mulier faciat. Georgius consensit.

16: If any man has divorced his wife and has given her permission to serve God in a monastery for the sake of religion or has given her license to veil herself outside the monastery, [then] just as we have said according to God, that man may receive [another] legal wife. And similarly, let it be so for a woman [in the reverse circumstances]. George has agreed [to this stipulation].

Capitularia regum francorum, canon 16, MGH 1: 38

XIX: Si quis leprosus mulierem habeat sanam, si vult ei donare comiatum ut accipiat virum, ipsa femina, si vult, accipiat. Similiter et vir.

19: If any leper has a healthy wife, [and] if he wishes to give her permission so that she may marry [another] many, that woman, if she so wishes, may marry [another man]. And similarly, [let it be so] for a man [in the reverse circumstances].

Capitularia regum francorum, canon 19, MGH 1: 39

These canons are quite stunning. In neither of these cases has either party in the marriage committed a wrong. In both canons, the couple can dissolve the marriage by mutual agreement. The egalitarian nature of these canons is rare in the Latin West, unlike in the Greek East, where it was more common (Reynolds, 176). But here divorce and remarriage is only permissible for either the case of the extreme disease of leprosy or for the sake of entering a monastery. In the case of Canon 19, it must be understood that medieval people thought leprosy was highly contagious (which it is not) and that they had no means of adequate treatment. The canon emphasizes the healthiness of the unaffected spouse. In short, the underlying principle of the canon was the concern that the healthy spouse would become ill with leprosy as well. As a means to avoid that, they granted the couple the option to terminate the marriage and for the healthy spouse to marry another, if both parties agreed. What is further implied is that if both parties are lepers, then they cannot divorce and remarry. In the case of Canon 16, it presumes that the spouse who enters the monastery actually wants to enter the monastery. In short, one member of the marriage cannot force their spouse into the monastery and then presume to enter into another marriage. Their has to be a clear religious desire (pro religionis causa). It is also reasonable to assume that the council participants considered sexual activity to be a very important part not only for the consummation of the marriage, but throughout the marriage. This assumption is bolstered by the fact that divorce and remarriage is permitted if the spouse merely takes a vow of chastity (assumes the veil) but does not enter a monastery.

Penitential of pseudo-Theodore of Canterbury (820/2 – 847 AD)

First things first, the authorship and dating of this penitential has undergone significant debate over the past 150 years. The scholarly consensus is now that this penitential is not the work of Theodore of Canterbury (otherwise known as Theodore of Tarsus), although it does make use of the real penitential of Theodore. Furthermore, it is not of Anglo-Saxon origin. Rather, this penitential is most certainly of Frankish origin, dating from 820/2 to 847 AD. For the detailed arguments about this matter, see the introduction to the following modern critical edition of the text:

pseudo-Theodore, Paenitentiale pseudo-Theodori, edited by Carine van Rhijn, CCSL 156B (Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2009)

Now, let us look at some of the canons of pseudo-Theodore. I’ve listed the chapter and canon numbers for the CCSL edition first and in parentheses I have provided the canon numbers for Wasserschleben’s edition, which is available on Google Books:

XIII.7 (6): Qui dimiserit uxorem propriam alienamque in coniugio duxerit, non tamen uxorem alterius sed vacantem quempiam vel virginem, vii annos peniteat.

XIII.13 (12): Si quis legitimam uxorem habens dimiserit et aliam duxerit, vii annos peniteat. Illa vero quam duxit non est illius, ideo non manducet, neque bibat, neque omnino in sermone sit cum illa quam male accepit, neque cum parentibus illius. Ipsi tamen, si consenserint, sint excommunicati. Illa vero excommunicatio talis fiat, ut neque manducent neque bibant cum aliis christianis, neque in sacra oblatione participes existant et a mensa Domini separentur quousque fructum penitentie dignum per confessionem et lacrimas ostendant.

XIII.19 (18): Mulier si adulterata est et vir eius non vult habitare cum ea, dimittere eam potest iuxta sententiam Domini, et aliam ducere. Illa vero, si vult in monasterio intrare, quartam partem suae hereditatis obtineat. Si non vult, nihil habeat.

XIII.24 (23): Si mulier discesserit a vira suo, dispiciens eum, nolens revertere et reconciliari viro, post v annos cum consensu episcopi aliam accipiat uxorem si continens esse non poterit et iii annos peniteat quia iuxta sententiam Domini moechus comprobatur.

XIII.25 (24): Si cuius uxor in captivitatem per vim ducta fuerit et eam redimi non potuerit, post annum potest alteram accipere. Item si in captivitate ducta fuerit et sperans quod debet revertere vir eius, v annos expectet. Similiter autem et mulier si viro talia contingerint. Si igitur vir interim alteram duxit uxorem et prior iterum mulier de captivitate reversa fuerit, eam accipiat posterioremque dimittat. Similiter autem et illa, sicut superius diximus, si viro talia contingerint, faciat.

13.7 (6): He who would dismiss his wife and marry another in union, [that is to say] not the wife of another, but any single maiden, let him make penance for seven years.

13.13 (12): If any living man having a legal wife divorces her and marries another, let him make penance for seven years. But that [first] woman whom he has married is no longer his, therefore let her not eat, drink, nor be anywhere within speaking distance with that [second] woman whom he has married wrongly nor with his parents. But those parents, if they consent [to be with the ex-wife], let them be excommunicated. But that excommunication shall be so great, that they shall not eat nor drink with any other Christians, nor be  participants in holy oblation and be separated from the table of the Lord until they show worthy fruit with penance through confession and tears.

13.19 (18): A woman, if she is an adulteress, and her husband does not wish to live with her, he is able to divorce her in accordance with the prescription of the Lord, and marry another. That woman, however, if she wishes to enter into a monastery, let her retain a fourth of her dowry. If she does not wish [to do so], let her have none of it.

13.24 (23): If a woman has divorced her husband, despising him, not wishing to return and be reconciled to the husband, after five years with the consent of the bishop, he may marry another wife if he is unable to be continent. And let him make three years penance because in accordance with the prescription of the Lord, he is known as an adulterer.

13.25 (24): If a man’s wife has been led into captivity through force and he has been unable to redeem her, after one year he is able to marry another. Again, if a woman is led into captivity and her husband hopes that she ought to return, then he should wait for five years. And similarly for a woman if they have seized her husband. If therefore a man has married another wife and the first wife has returned from captivity, let him receive her and divorce the second. And similarly, just as we have said above, in the case of if her husband is seized and he returns, let her do likewise.

“Poenitentiale pseudo-Theodori,” in Die Bussordnungen der abendländischen Kirche, edited by F. W. H. Wasserschleben (Halle, Germany: Graeger, 1851), 581-583 (canons 6, 12, 18, 23-24)

Paenitentiale pseudo-Theodori, Chapter 13 De adulterio, CCSL 156B, 26-29 (canons 7, 13, 19, 24-25)

Canon 7 (I’m using CCSL numbers here) says that a man who divorces his wife and marries another must make penance for seven years. Given that the penance is not lifelong until he divorces the second wife or is shortened if he does divorce his second wife, it is clear that remarriage is permitted. It is surprising, however, that no circumstances are outlined that restrict the reasons for divorce. Meanwhile, Canon 13 repeats this injunction on the man, but then concerns itself with the behavior of the first wife. She is explicitly forbidden from being around the second wife or her former in-laws. If the in-laws allow their beloved ex-daughter-in-law to remain with them, those parents are excommunicated. Canon 13 seems to be intent of making the life of the second marriage as least awkward as possible by forcing the ex-wife entirely out of the picture. In other words, although the man is frowned upon for divorcing and remarrying, his second marriage is viewed as completely legitimate and worth the protection of the church and community.

Canon 19 is fairly straight forward in permitting divorce and remarriage of the husband, if his wife has committed adultery. It also issues stipulations for dividing her dowry. If she chooses to make penance by entering into a monastery, then she may keep a fourth of her dowry, presumably for her to give to her monastery when she enters it. But if she chooses not to make this penance and instead either make no penance or the seven year penance outlined in Canon 18 (17), which I did not translate here, then she is to keep none of her dowry. The loss of a dowry for a medieval woman after divorce was an incredibly harsh sentence.

Canon 24 very much resembles Canon 122 of pseudo-Egbert’s penitential, which I proffered in my previous post, but restricts the penance to only three years. The ambiguity of lifelong penance, outlined in pseudo-Egbert, is removed. However, the condemnation of the husband for not ideally staying single remains. Likewise Canon 25 is also similar to Canon 123 in the previously discussed pseudo-Egbert. However, the waiting periods differ drastically. In pseudo-Theodore, if the husband is clearly unable to redeem his wife, then he only has to wait a single year before remarrying. If, however, he expects, presumably through prior arrangements, that she be returned, then he must wait at least five years. If she has not returned after five years, then he can remarry. Pseudo-Egbert does not provide this nuance. Rather is says regardless of whether the husband expects to get his wife back after trying to do so, he must wait a full seven years before remarrying. Nevertheless, both penitentials agree that these stipulations apply to both men and women equally. Therefore, a woman could remarry if she is unable to redeem her captured husband. Furthermore, if the captured spouse somehow returns after the other has already remarried, the remarried party must divorce their second spouse and return to the other. It does not seem that the desires of either party matter in such circumstances. They must return to the first marriage regardless.

Pope Innocent I: The Case of Fortunius & Ursa (410 AD)

The following historical background for this case is detailed in Reynolds’ work, but Migne also presents some notes in the Patrologia Latina (Reynolds, 131-134). This particular case came before Pope Innocent I in 410 AD, brought to him by a woman named Ursa. We know of this case through a letter from Innocent addressed to a Roman civil official by the name of Probus. The circumstances of Ursa were that she was captured by the Visigoths who sacked Rome in 410. Eventually, however, she was able to return to Rome and to her husband. However, her husband, Fortunius, had already remarried another woman by the name of Restituta (Reynolds, 132). Under secular Roman law, if someone is captured by a foreign enemy and taken to territory outside Roman control, then their citizenship was suspended and their estate could be assumed by another. Furthermore, their marriage was automatically dissolved (Reynolds, 131). That is to say, even if they wanted to wait for the return of their spouse, under Roman law, the marriage had already been terminated automatically. Below is Innocent’s letter, which contains the particulars of this case:

Epistola XXXVI. Si maritus cujus uxor in captivitatem fuerat abducta, alteram acceperit, revertente prima, secunda mulier debet excludi.

Innocentius Probo

[Col.0602B] Conturbatio procellae barbaricae facultati legum intulit casum. Nam bene constituto matrimonio inter Fortunium et Ursam captivitatis incursus fecerat naevum, nisi sancta religionis statuta providerent. Cum enim in captivitate praedicta Ursa mulier teneretur; aliud conjugium cum Restituta Fortunius memoratus inisse cognoscitur (34, q. 1 et 2, c. 2; Ivo p. 8, c. 245). Sed favore Domini reversa Ursa nos adiit, et nullo diffitente, uxorem se memorati perdocuit. Quare, domine fili merito illustris, statuimus, fide catholica suffragante, illud esse conjugium, quod erat primitus gratia divina fundatum; [Col.0603A] conventumque secundae mulieris, priore superstite, nec divortio ejecta, nullo pacto posse esse legitimum.

Letter 36. Whether a husband whose wife has been led into captivity and has married another woman should, with the first wife having returned, divorce the second wife.

Innocent to Probus

The confusion of the violent barbarian has brought a legal case before my power. For their attack has wrought a blight upon the good marriage between Fortanius and the captive Ursa, unless they have provided a holy statute of religion. Indeed, the woman Ursa was taken into the aforementioned captivity, Fortunius is known to have entered into another marriage with Restituta. But with the favor of the Lord, the returned Ursa came before us, and with no denial, proclaimed convincingly that she was the wife of times past. By which means, young illustrious lord with merit,  we have ruled, having favored the universal faith, that [first] marriage to stand, because it was formerly founded with divine grace, and that covenant with the second woman, as long as the first wife lives or is not divorced, cannot by any agreement be legitimate.

Pope Innocent I to Probus, Epistula 36, Patrologia Latina 20: 602A – 603A

There is a lot to go through here. Since it is only fair, a previous scholar by the name of G. H. Joyce said that this case was a legal case, not an ecclesiastical case, thereby meaning Innocent was operating as a secular legal judge and was bound by secular law. This argument can be seen in Christian Marriage: An Historical and Doctrinal Study printed in 1933. Reynolds, however, rebuts this position insisting that the case was seen before an ecclesiastical court. The reason for this is because Emperor Honorius had ruled in 399 AD that bishops could only hear religious cases and that civil cases must be held before civil courts. Furthermore, under civil law, Ursa would have most certainly lost her case against Fortunius, because Roman law automatically dissolved their marriage once she was captured and taken into foreign territory (Reynolds, 133). This argument is further bolstered by the fact that Innocent makes mention of religious statutes (sancta religionis statuta) and the favoring of the universal faith (fide catholica suffragante) (Reynolds, 133). These statutes would have no standing in this case if it was a secular legal one. In short, this was most certainly a religious case adjudicated by Pope Innocent I.

Now, it is worthy to note that Pope Innocent makes the interesting point of some exceptions in cases of divorce and remarriage. If the first wife died, then of course Fortunius could remarry. Additionally, if Fortunius had divorced his wife in an ecclesiastical court, then he could remarry. In short, Innocent here is saying that he permits divorce and remarriage. The question quickly arises as to under which circumstances would Innocent have granted an ecclesiastical divorce. To this point I will later return.

Now some readers will object to this interpretation based upon Innocent’s Letter to Bishop Victricius of Rouen in 408 AD. In it, he prohibits an adulteress woman from remarrying again while her husband still live. Catholic Answers has this quote proudly posted on their website concerning the issue of marriage. However, it should be noted that this woman is clearly the guilty party in the marriage. Furthermore, the letter says nothing about forbidding that husband from remarrying. Nevertheless, Innocent does forbid remarriage after divorce, even in cases of adultery, for both parties in Letter 6, Chapter 6 (PL 20: 0500B – 0501A) dating from 405 AD. So either Innocent changed his position five years later in the case of Ursa, or he was always extraordinarily strict in giving permission for ecclesiastical divorce. Reynolds speculates that the extraordinary circumstances might have been related to many years of captivity (Reynolds, 134). Again, we cannot know the specifics. What is certain however is that Pope Innocent believed divorce and remarriage was possible, but on what grounds remains uncertain.

Pope Leo I: On the Return of Captive Spouses (458 AD)

Nearly four decades later, Pope Leo I, like Innocent, faced the daunting challenge of barbarian invaders – this time the Huns under the command of Attila. Around 452 AD, the Huns had invaded Northern Italy, and took many captives. The remaining women whose husbands had been taken into captivity eventually remarried. However, many of the men were able to return some years later. Bishop Nicetas of Aquileia is unsure of what to do in these difficult cases. Therefore, he asks Leo for his opinion on the matter. Listed below is a portion of Leo’s reply in a rescript (Reynolds, 134-135). It is important to note that rescripts were not binding judgments. Nicetas was under no obligation to listen to Leo’s advice.

Epistola CLIX. Ad Nicetam episcopum Aquileiensem

Caput I. De feminis quae occasione captivitatis virorum suorum, aliis nupserunt.

Cum ergo per bellicam cladem et per gravissimos hostilitatis incursus, ita quaedam dicatis divisa esse conjugia, ut abductis in [Col.1136B] captivitatem viris feminae eorum remanserint destitutae, quae cum viros proprios aut interemptos putarent, aut numquam a dominatione crederent liberandos, ad aliorum conjugium, solitudine cogente, transierint. Cumque nunc statu rerum, auxiliante Domino, in meliora converso, nonnulli eorum qui putabantur periisse, remeaverint, merito charitas tua videtur ambigere quid de mulieribus, quae aliis junctae sunt viris, a nobis debeat ordinari. Sed quia novimus scriptum, quod a Deo jungitur mulier viro(Prov. XIX, 14), et iterum praeceptum agnovimus ut quod Deus junxit homo non separet(Matth. XIX, 6), necesse est ut legitimarum foedera nuptiarum redintegranda credamus, et remotis malis quae hostilitas intulit, unicuique hoc quod legitime habuit reformetur, [Col.1136C] omnique studio procurandum est ut recipiat unusquisque quod proprium est.

Caput II. An culpabilis sit qui locum captivi mariti assumpsit.

Nec tamen culpabilis judicetur, et tamquam alieni juris pervasor habeatur, qui personam ejus mariti, qui jam non esse existimabatur, assumpsit. [Col.1137A] Sic enim multa quae ad eos qui in captivitatem ducti sunt pertinebant in jus alienum transire potuerunt, et tamen plenum justitiae est ut eisdem reversis propria reformentur. Quod si in mancipiis vel in agris, aut etiam in domibus ac possessionibus rite servatur, quanto magis in conjugiorum redintegratione faciendum est, ut quod bellica necessitate turbatum est pacis remedio reformetur?

Caput III. Restituendam esse uxorem primo marito.

Et ideo, si viri post longam captivitatem reversi ita in dilectione suarum conjugum perseverent, ut eas cupiant in suum redire consortium, omittendum est et inculpabile judicandum quod necessitas intulit, et restituendum quod fides poscit.

Letter 159. To Bishop Nicetas of Aquileia.

Chapter 1. Concerning women who on the occasion of the capture of their husbands have married another man.

Therefore, when through the destruction of war and through the onset of the most grave hostilities, that, as you say, some marriages are dissolved, so that the women, whose husbands have been led into captivity, remain destitute and think that when their husbands have been slain or believe that they will never be freed from domination, therefore on account of being driven into loneliness enter into another marriage. Now whenever the state of things, with the help of the Lord, changes for the better, and some of them, who were thought to have perished, have returned, your charity is seen with deserved ambiguity with respect to the women who are joined to another man. Let [this case] be ruled by us. Because we have known the scriptures, which [say] that “a woman is joined to a man by God” (Proverbs 19:14), and again because we have known the prescription as “what God has joined let no man separate” (Matthew 19:6), [then] it is necessary that we believe the union of the legitimate marriage ought to be reintegrated, and once the evil enemy who attacked has withdrawn, what had lawfully been shall be reformed, and with every desire ought to be procured so that everyone will receive what is theirs.

Chapter 2. Whether there is culpability for he who assumed that the [first] husband was captured.

Nevertheless, the man who took the place of her husband, reckoning that the latter did not exist, should not be judged as culpable or as the invader of another’s right. For in this way many things which belonged to those who were taken into captivity may have passed into the rights of others. But it is altogether just that when they return, their property should be restored to them. Now if this is rightly observed in the matter of slaves or of land, or even of homes and possessions, how more more should this be done when it comes to the re-establishment of a marriage, so that what the adversities of war have disrupted should be restored by the remedy of peace.

Chapter 3. Whether the wife ought to be restored to her first husband.

And therefore, if men who have returned after long captivity so persevere in the love of their wives that they want them to come back to their partnership, then that which misfortune brought about should be set aside and what fidelity demands should be restored.

Note: Chapters 2 and 3 are translations found in Reynolds, Marriage in the Western Church, 135-137.

Pope Leo I to Bishop Nicetas of Aquileia, Epistula 159, Patrologia Latina 54: 1136A – 1137A

Here Pope Leo advises that if the first husband returns from captivity AND desires that he be reunited with his wife, who has since married another man, that the wife therefore leave her second husband and return to her first husband. Furthermore, no one party is held culpable for this situation. In fact, the second husband is explicitly excused from the matter. Also noteworthy is that if the husband returns AND does NOT desire to reclaim his wife, then the wife is under NO obligation to leave her second husband. One last thing worth pointing out here is that Leo did believe the woman’s second marriage was okay based upon two qualifications in the case of her first husband’s capture and enslavement. These two qualifications were either she believed her first husband to be dead OR she believed that, although he was still alive, he would never be able to return. Therefore, it is abundantly clear that Pope Leo I did not hold marriage to be indissoluble, as many Catholics and Protestants do today.


This addendum has turned out to be quite longer than the original post that I made back in September. Yet I think that it is sufficient to show that the tradition of divorce and remarriage in the Latin West was a strong and vibrant one during the first millennium. The Council of Rome (826) most certainly allowed for both divorce and remarriage under the guidance of Pope Eugenius II. Furthermore, the Council of Elvira (c. 300) allowed remarriage for husbands only. Women, however, faced a sexist double standard, which was not uncommon for permissions of remarriage in the Latin West. Equality for divorce and remarriage was much more common in the Greek East. This equality is best demonstrated in the Latin West in the penitential of pseudo-Theodore and the additional canons of the Council of Compiègne (757). I have also provided evidence of two more popes, Innocent I and Leo I (a Church Father), explicitly allowing divorce and remarriage. I have also shown that Saint Caesarius of Arles, another Church Father, oversaw a council that ruled divorce and remarriage to be permissible. To sum up the totality of these past two posts on the Latin West’s tradition: four Church Fathers, three popes, eight councils, and two penitentials all sanctioned divorce and remarriage in a variety of circumstances. Divorce and remarriage in the Latin West was most certainly a part of sacred tradition.

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Divorce & Remarriage in the Latin West: A Forgotten History


NOTE: I have since made a follow up post for this topic, which has further arguments and evidence. Click here to see it as well.

Over the past many years, there have been a number of internet articles that speak of the differences between the Latin West and the Greek East on the question of the indissolubility of marriage, divorce, and remarriage. Catholics often have seen the Greek East as deviating from correct teaching on the matter. And both Orthodox and Catholics have often seen the Latin West as a monolith concerning its position on divorce and remarriage. The truth of the matter, however, is much more complex. The Latin West for a long time had a rich tradition of allowing divorce and remarriage under a variety of circumstances and under a number of conditions. My purpose here is to illustrate them and to make the case that this tradition was hardly minor, but a very popular one for many centuries in the Latin West. In many ways, this tradition was analogous to the Greek tradition in the East.

Before I start this list, let me make the following statement. There is much to do with the Greek word or porneia clause in Matthew 19:9. For a brief introduction into the big argument about it, see the following blog post from Shameless Popery. I do not know Greek, so I will not try to offer my own interpretation of the original Greek text nor cite secondary sources in my favor since I cannot critically evaluate their understanding of the Greek. However, I am rather content to work with the Vulgate and the vast Latin literature on the subject. Moreover, I do think it is important to stress that for many centuries, the porneia clause or in Latin the fornicationem clause (see Vulgate Mt 19:9) was understood to be an exception clause. Often this tradition is brushed away as something that was minor. If one only looks at the Church Fathers, then they are perhaps correct. However it should be kept in mind that even the group of Church Fathers who held the majority opinion of no second marriage is further split into various smaller group opinions. For example, Basil and Tertullian both heavily disapproved of second marriages, even after the death of a spouse. Once seen in this light, we begin to understand that the issue of remarriage as a whole, as well as remarriage after divorce, is an extraordinarily complex subject in the first millennium of the Church in both the Latin West and the Greek East.

In terms of the Greek East and its traditions, there is a Catholic blog that already makes use of them to argue its case for the indissolubility of marriage.  In fact, here is one and then another by the popular apologist Dave Armstrong. I won’t go into detail as to how they are mistaken with their assertion that the Orthodox Church has ignored the Eastern Church Fathers’ consensus in that marriage is indissoluble. I will only make the brief comment that many of these Church Fathers are speaking in the context of the parenetic genre. Furthermore, I will quote an excellent article on the matter briefly:

The idea by which the matrimonial bond subsisted in spite of a justified divorce, that is, one founded on Matthew’s clause of exception, is formally contradictory to the general position of the Eastern Fathers. It would be tedious to mention all the explicit testimonies to this effect. Let it suffice to mention St. John of Chrysostom, who confirms that through adultery marriage is dissolved and that after fornication, the husband ceases to be the husband. As for St. Cyril of Alexandria, he expressly states: “It is not a writ of divorce that dissolves marriage before God, but bad actions.”

Bishop Peter L’Huillier, “The Indissolubility of Marriage in Orthodox Law and Practice,” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 32 (1988): 206.

If one wishes to read more on the specific issue of Eastern Church Fathers, then I encourage you to read the following article quoted above, which also touches on the Latin Church Fathers too:

Bishop Peter L’Huillier, “The Indissolubility of Marriage in Orthodox Law and Practice,” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 32 (1988): 199-221.

At the same time, I’d also like to suggest reading the wonderful article on the Latin West’s treatment of marriage, which I also have used to a great extent to pull my primary sources from:

Jo-Ann McNamara and Suzanne F. Wemple, “Marriage and Divorce in the Frankish Kingdom,” in Women in Medieval Society, edited by Susan Mosher Stuard (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1976), 95-124.

Now, without further ado, let us look at the list! The purpose of this list is not necessarily to prove anything against the present Latin position, most notably held by the Catholic Church (although held by some Protestants as well), about the indissolubility of marriage. Rather my purpose here to highlight a tradition of councils, two Latin Church Fathers, and early medieval penitentials used by priests that clearly allow divorce and remarriage in a variety of circumstances. This tradition in the Latin West goes back to at least the beginning of the fourth century.

Latin Councils of the Church

Council of Arles, AD 314:

De his qui coniuges suas in adulterio depraehendunt, et idem sunt adulescentes fideles et prohibentur nubere, placuit ut, quantum possit, consilium eis detur ne alias uxores, viventibus etiam uxoribus suis licet adulteris, accipiant.

Concerning these [men] who find their wives in adultery – and [who] are young Christian men, and [who] are forbidden to marry – it has been decided that, as long as possible, even if their adulterous wife is living, counsel is to be given to them not to marry another woman.

Concilium Arlatense, canon 10, Mansi 2: 472

Concilium Arelatense, canon 10, in Conciliae Galliae A. 314-A.506, edited by C. Munier, CCSL volume 148 (Turnholt, 1963), Page 11

Now, for the Council of Arles, my reader might be confused if they have read the following Catholic blog where the author misunderstands the canon as supporting the indissolubility of marriage. The problem with their translation is that it mistranslates the key phrase, “quantum possit” as “so far as may be.” I’ve highlighted my translation of the phrase in blue. “Possit” is the present subjunctive form of the verb “possum,” which means “to be able,” not “to be.” The proper Latin for the Catholic author’s English translation would be the following: “quantum sit,” which actually wouldn’t even make sense in this context. The implication of this phrase is that the man may marry another woman while his first wife is still alive, if he finds himself unable to abstain from sex. Ideally, he abstains. However, if he cannot, then he should marry again to avoid fornication. This canon far from upholds the principle of the indissolubility of marriage since it sanctions remarriage after divorce. This interpretation is further bolstered by the fact that he is only given advice not to marry again.

Council of Vannes, AD 465:

Eos quoque, qui relictis uxoribus suis, sicut in evangelio dicitur excepta causa fornicationis, sine adulterii probatione alias duxerint, statuimus a communion similiter arcendos, ne per indulgentiam nostrum praetermissa peccata alios ad licentiam erroris invitent.

Also, those who have abandoned their wives, just as it is said in the gospel, except for the cause of fornication, who have married another without proof of adultery, we likewise forbid from communion, in order that not through our indulgence they invite more permitted sins to the license of error.

Concilium Veneticum, canon 2, Mansi 7: 953

Concilium Vernerticum, canon 2, CCSL, 148: Page 152

Council of Soissons, AD 744:

Similiter constituemus, ut nullus laicus homo Deo sacrata femina ad mulierem non habeat nec sua parentem; nec marito viventem sua mulier alius non accipiat, nec mulier vivente suo viro alium accipiat, quia maritus muliere sua non debet dimittere, excepto causa fornicationis deprehensa.

Corrected Latin from the notes (see lines 33-37 in link below): Similiter constituimus, ut nullus laicus homo Deo sacratam feminam ad mulierem non habeat nec sua parentem; nec maritus vivente sua muliere aliam non accipiat, nec mulier vivente suo viro alium accipiat, quia maritus mulierem suam non debet dimittere, excepta causa fornicationis deprehensa.

Similarly we establish, that no layman may either have his parent or a nun as his wife. Neither may the husband marry another while his wife lives, nor may the wife marry another while her husband lives, because the husband ought not to dismiss his wife, unless a case of adultery has been discovered.

Concilium Suessionense, canon 9, MGH, Concilium 2.1: 35

I have only included this canon from the Council of Soissons (744) because I originally included it as certain proof of my argument. However, as the commenter below, PatriciusPulcher, has argued, my interpretation was far too certain. Nonetheless, because this is an edit that comes off nearly two and a half years after my original publication, I feel compelled to leave the original argument that I made for the sake of posterity. I have quoted my original argument just below.

Now some might object to the above canon as supporting remarriage on the grounds that it excludes remarriage on the grounds that the spouse is still living. They then might further contend that the divorce is in fact only a separation in the case of adultery. This interpretation is simply not possible. The “quia” or “because” indicates that a husband ought not to divorce his wife and marry another at all while his wife lives, except in cases of adultery. The “because” must necessarily apply to the whole sense of the sentence. Furthermore, “because” or “quia” implies a determining reason. The circumstances of the canon here is speaking about divorces that have already occurred. Therefore, it would make no sense to give the exception clause for the fact of separation, which they are not concerned about. What they are clearly concerned about is that people are marrying after a divorce, and they are clarifying that unless the divorce was situated on certain grounds, celibacy is demanded.

Note: This argument here is the original and somewhat embarrassing argument I originally made. It is shameful that I took so long to correct it after admitting my error. My deepest apologies.

As for what my current argument for the Council of Soissons (744) is, I believe that the chances of it supporting my argument – that divorce and remarriage were permitted quite widely in the Latin West during Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages – to be about 50-50. The canon itself does not explicitly say that remarriage is permissible after divorce. It only explicates that a divorce can happen. Whether the wording implies that a new marriage is possible in the cases of adultery, well the canon can be read either way. It can be read that the remarriage in such cases can only occur once the first wife dies or that it can occur regardless. This canon occurs in close proximity to the Council of Compiègne (757) and the Council of Verberie (?758-768?), both of whose canons are much more clear on the permissibility of divorce and remarriage. As I suggested in my reply to PatriciusPulcher, Compiègne and Verberie could be read as clarifications of Soissons. But that line of argument is not foolproof, as it supposes consistency across all three councils, when inconsistency might very well have been the historical reality. So I leave Soissons here as my most ambiguous example that I can come to no firm conclusions on.

Council of Compiègne, AD 757:

Si quis homo habet mulierem legittimam, et frater eius adulteravit cum ea, ille frater vel illa femina qui adulterium perpetraverunt, interim quo vivunt, numquam habeant coniugium. Ille cuius uxor fuit, si vult, potestatem habet accipere aliam.

If any man has a legal wife, and his brother has committed adultery with her, that brother and that woman who committed adultery may never marry one another while living. That man who was her spouse, if he wishes, has the power to marry another.

Capitularia regum francorum, canon 11, MGH 1: 38

Council of Verberie, AD ?758-768?:

Si qua mulier mortem viri sui cum aliis hominibus consiliavit, et ipse vir ipsius hominem se defendo occiderit et hoc probare potest, ille vir potest ipsam uxorem dimittere et, si voluerit, aliam accipiat.

If a wife has conspired in the murder of her husband with another man, and the man [Note: the husband] himself kills the other man in self defense and is able to prove this, that man is able to divorce his wife, and if he wishes, marry another.

Capitularia regum francorum, canon 5, MGH 1: 40

Synod of Rome, AD 826, which Pope Eugenius II presided over:

De his, qui adhibitam sibi uxorem reliquerunt et aliam sociaverunt. Nulli liceat, excepta causa fornicationis, adhibitam uxorem relinquere et deinde aliam copulare; alioquin transgressorem priori convenit sociari coniugio. Sin autem vir et uxor divertere pro sola religiosa inter se consenserint vita, nullatenus sine conscientia episocopi fiat, ut ab eo singulariter proviso constituantur loco. Nam uxore nolente aut altero eorum etiam pro tali re matrimonium non solvatur.

Forma minor: Nullus excepta causa fornicationis uxorem suam dimittat. Si vero vir et uxor pro religion dividi voluerint, cum consensus episcopi hic faciant. Nam si unus voluerit et alius noluerit, etiam pro tali re matrimonium non solvatur.

Concerning those men, who have divorced [their] married wives and marry another. Let no one, except for the cause of fornication, divorce their married wife and then marry another. In other respects, it is suitable for the transgressor to be married to the first spouse. If however a man and wife consent to divorce between themselves for the sake of a monastic life, in no way shall it be so without the joint knowledge of the bishop, so that they may be stationed by him in a single prepared location. For [if] due to an unwilling wife or her husband, let it not be dissolved for the sake of the marriage.

Smaller form: Let no one divorce his wife except for the cause of fornication. Truly if a man and a wife wish to separate for [pursuing] a religious life, let them do so with the consent of the bishop here. For if one wishes and another does not wish, let the marriage not be dissolved.

Concilia Romanum, canon 36, MGH, Concilia aevi Karolini, 2.1: 582

As one can easily see, the canonical tradition for remarriage after divorce in the Latin West was strong in the first millennium.

Church Fathers: Jerome and Ambrosiaster

Now let us examine two of the Latin Church Fathers.

Saint Jerome on Matthew 19:9, AD 398:

It is fornication alone that conquers the affection for one’s wife. Indeed, the “one flesh” he has with his wife, he shares with another woman. By fornication she separates herself from her husband. She should not be held, lest she cause her husband to be cursed too, since the Scripture says: “He who holds an adulteress is foolish and impious (Proverbs 18:22).” Therefore, whenever there is fornication and suspicion of fornication, a wife is freely divorced. And since it could have happened that someone brought a false charge against an innocent person, and on account of the second marriage-union hurled a charge at the first wife, it is commanded to divorce the first wife in such a way that he has no second wife while the first one is living. For he says the following: If you divorce your wife not on account of lust, but on account of an injury, why after the experience of the first unhappy marriage do you admit yourself into the danger of a new one? And besides, it could have come to pass that according to the same law, the wife too would have given a bill of divorce to the husband. And so by the same precaution, it is commanded that she not receive a second husband. And since a prostitute and she who had once been an adulteress were not afraid of reproach, the second husband is commanded that if he marries such a woman, he will be under the charge of adultery.

Jerome, Commentary on Matthew, Patrologia Latina 26: 0135A – 0135B

Jerome, Commentary on Matthew 19:9, Trans. by Thomas P. Scheck, Commentary on Matthew (Washington D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2008): 216-217

This passage of Jerome’s commentary is often misunderstood to mean that he supports the indissolubility of marriage here. This is simply not the case. Jerome is notably concerned with the prospect of a husband or wife divorcing their spouse for unjustified reasons or on spurious grounds. If such happens and then they marry, then both the unsuspecting party and the more guilty party are guilty of adultery. Therefore, Jerome questions the motives of anyone who divorces and then marries another. He insinuates that the wronged party of a first marriage should be so emotionally injured that they would not want to marry again. If such is not the case, then it might very well be that the charges against the spouse to give grounds for divorce were trumped up. Jerome forbids or at least cautions against remarriage on these grounds. While I realize that Jerome’s position in his 77th letter is different, I think it is important to note any fluidity or changes in his position.

The anonymous Ambrosiaster (?366-384?):

The apostle’s advice is as follows: If a woman has left her husband because of his bad behavior, she should remain unmarried or be reconciled to him. If she cannot control herself, because she is unwilling to struggle against the flesh, then let her be reconciled to her husband. A woman may not marry if she has left her husband because of his fornication or apostasy, or because, impelled by lust, he wishes to have sexual relations with her in an illicit way. This is because the inferior party does not have the same rights under the law as the stronger one has. But if the husband turns away from the faith or desires to have perverted sexual relations, the wife may neither marry another nor return to him. The husband should not divorce his wife, though one should add the clause “except for fornication”. The reason why Paul does not add, as he does in the case of the woman, “But if she departs, he should remain as he is” is because a man is allowed to remarry if he has divorced a sinful wife. The husband is not restricted by the law as a woman is, for the head of a woman is her husband.

Ambrosiaster, Commentary on 1 Corinthians 7:11, Patrologia Latina 17: 0230A – 0230B

Ambrosiaster, Commentary on 1 Corinthians 7: 11 Trans. by Gerald L. Bray, Commentaries on Romans and 1-2 Corinthians (InterVarsity Press, 2009): 150-151

While Ambrosiaster’s blatant sexism is undoubtedly disturbing to us today (and rightly so), it is clear that he understood some legitimate grounds for divorce and remarriage. Any claim that he thinks marriages are indissoluble contradicts his sanction of remarriage for divorced men.

Latin Penitentials

Lastly let us engage the penitentials used by confessors. The first two examples come from the section known as The Extracts (Excerptiones), which is to say that the following guidelines for penance are pulled from various canons of various councils as well as church fathers. According to Mansi, these were composed around the year of 748, but do take that date with some caution since Mansi’s system of dating is centuries old:

Si mulier discesserit a viro suo, despiciens eum, nolens revertere et reconciliari viro post quinque vel septem annos, cum consensus episcopi, ipse aliam accipiat uxorem, si continens esse non poterit, et poeniteat tres annos, vel etiam quamdiu vixerit, quia juxta sententiam Domini moechus comprobatur.

If a woman separates herself from her husband, despising him, not wishing to return and be reconciled to the man, [then] after five or seven years, with the consent of the bishop, he himself may marry another wife if he is not able to be continent. And let him repent for three years, or even however long he lives, because of the statement of the Lord establishing [the criteria] for an adulterer.

Pseudo-Egobert, Penitentiale Egberti, 122, Mansi 12: 424


Si cujus uxor in captivitatem ducta fuerit, et ea redimi non poterit, post annum septimum alteram accipiat: et si postea propria, id est prior mulier, de captivitate reversa fuerit, accipiat eam, posterioremque dimittat. Similiter autem et illa, sicut superius diximus, si viro talia contigerint, faciat.

If one’s wife is led into captivity, and he is not able to redeem her, after seven years he may marry another. And particularly if afterwards, that is the first woman, returns from captivity, let him receive her and dismiss his second wife. And similarly, just as we have said above, that woman may do if such [events] have befallen her man.

Pseudo-Egobert, Penitentiale Egberti, 123, Mansi 12: 424


Si uxor viri cujusdam adulteretur, maritus eam potest deserere, et aliam ducere, si ea prima fuerit uxor; si autem secunda vel tertia fuerit, non potest aliam ducere: si uxor flagitia sua comittere velit intra quinque annos, alii viro nubere debet. Si mortuus maritus sit, uxor intra annum alium sumere potest. Quicumque maritus uxorem suam deseruerit, et ie injusto matrimonio (alii) adjungat, jejunet septem hyemes severum jejunium, vel quindecim leviora. Quicumque multa mala perpetraverit in homicidium, et occisionem hominis, et injustum concubitum cum bestiis, et cum mulieribus, eat ad monasterium, et semper jejunet usque ad finem vitae, si valde multa miserit.

If the wife of the same man has committed adultery, the husband is able to divorce her, and marry another [only] if she [the adulteress] was the first wife. But if she was the second or the third, he is not able to marry [again]. If the wife wishes to engage in a shameful act during the space of five years, [then] she ought to marry another man. If the husband is dead, the wife is able to marry in the space of a year. Every husband who divorces his wife, and marries another in unjust matrimony, let him fast for seven winters of harsh fasting, or fifteen winters lightly. Whoever perpetrates many evils in homicide, the killing of a man, unjust sexual relations with beasts and with women, let him go forth to the monastery, and fast always until the end of his life, if he truly gives up the many [evils].

Pseudo-Egobert, Penitentiale Egberti, 19, Mansi 12: 436

This prescription above is particularly notable because its position on remarriage is very close to the present-day Orthodox practice.

And the final penitential:

Si maritus cum propria sua uxore coeat, lavet se antequam ad ecclesiam abeat; si mulier maritum suum a se rejiciat, et dein nolit resipiscere, et cum eo in quinque annis pacem inire, maritus cum consensus episcopi, aliam uxorem ducere potest. Si maritus uxoris in captivitatem ducatur, expectet cum sex annos, et ita vir uxori faciat, si ei captivitas accidat; si maritus aliam uxorem ducat, et captiva post quinque annos redeat, deserat posteriorem, et captivam sumat, quam antea eodem modo duxerat. Cum vir in adulterio conjunctus sit uxori suae familiae, post uxoris suae mortem, legitimo jure uxori illi conjungatur.

If a husband copulates with his wife, let him wash himself before going over to the church. If the woman rejects her husband from herself, and then does not wish to reflect, and he undergoes five peaceful years with her, the husband with the consent of the bishop is able to marry another. If the husband of the wife is led into captivity, let her wait for six years, and thus the man shall remain married to the wife, if the captured man happens to return to her. If the husband marries another wife, and the captured wife returns after five years, let him desert the latter wife, and retake the [formerly] captured wife, as he was married to her before. When a man is found to have committed adultery by his wife’s family, after the death of his wife, let him be married in legal law to that [other] woman.

Pseudo-Egobert, Penitentiale Egberti, 26, Mansi 12: 438

These exegeses from two Latin Church Fathers, the canons of six Latin church councils (one of them being in Rome and presided over by a pope), and various statements and prescriptions given in the penitentials all serve to make it clear that the Latin West for most of the first millennium had far from reached a consensus on the issue of divorce & remarriage, as well as the issue of indissolubility. If anyone is wanting to know what eventually starts to happen to this tradition beginning in the 9th century, I wholeheartedly suggest reading the McNamara and Wemple article I listed above. All I will say on the matter is that Charlemagne has a big impact on it.

NOTE: I have since made a follow up post for this topic, which has further arguments and evidence. Click here to see it as well.

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Upon this Rock: An Addendum

.st-peter-and Keys

Recently it has come to my attention through criticism that my previous blog post on the Latin exegetical tradition of Matthew 16: 18-19 does not accurately take into account the Catholic Church’s position of Peter as the Rock and the keeper of the keys. Before getting into the exact details of these rather strange arguments against me, the relevant passage of the Catholic Church’s catechism should be quoted:

553 Jesus entrusted a specific authority to Peter: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19). 287 The “power of the keys” designates authority to govern the house of God, which is the Church. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, confirmed this mandate after his Resurrection: “Feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17; 10:11). 288 The power to “bind and loose” connotes the authority to absolve sins, to pronounce doctrinal judgments, and to make disciplinary decisions in the Church. Jesus entrusted this authority to the Church through the ministry of the apostles 289 and in particular through the ministry of Peter, the only one to whom he specifically entrusted the keys of the kingdom. (881, 1445, 641, 881)

Now, what has been alleged against me is that I did not represent the Catholic view accurately. I claimed that the Catholic Church based its office of the papacy on primarily two things: 1.) that Peter was the rock and 2.) that Peter alone held the keys. Several mutually exclusive arguments have been levered against me in order to incorporate my previous blog post as compatible with the current teachings of the Catholic Church. These arguments mostly concern the latter point, that is the keys. These arguments are:

1.) That the Catholic Church does in fact teach that the rest of the apostles and hence bishops hold the keys, but they hold them through Peter, that is the papacy.

2.) That all of the apostles received the keys directly from Christ, however, the office of the papacy is not based upon an exclusive holding of the keys but rather that Peter is the Rock in addition to the fact that Christ first directly gave both the keys and the powers of binding and loosing to Peter, then to the rest of the apostles.

I will address these arguments in their respective order. In addition to my rebuttal of the second argument, I will also make the point that it itself is contrary to Catholic dogma.

The Apostles Have the Keys Through Peter?

First off, I think my original blog post on the matter adequately addressed the idea of having the keys through Peter. The Catechism alludes to this, and my blog post in quite specific detail showed that the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven were given directly to the rest of the apostles, according to some of the Latin writers. Now I do acknowledge that the main focus of my previous blog post was upon the concept of Peter alone being the Rock. Hence, as a result only a few of the writers spoke directly about the keys. Therefore, I wish to summarize some of what I’ve already said about the keys in my previous blog post, in addition to providing new evidence that they were given to the rest of the apostles. Most importantly, I wish to show that these keys were given directly to the other apostles by Christ, not through Peter.

[That] the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven are for discerning knowledge, and the power which receives the worthy into the Kingdom, and excludes the unworthy ought to be understood. And whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. This [applies] as much to Peter as to the all of the apostles and their successors, who hold the same office rightly we lend permission, because he himself appears to them after the passion, saying: Receive the Holy Spirit; every sin that you forgive are forgiven; and every sin that you retain are retained…

Christian of Stavelot’s EXPOSITIO IN MATTHAEUM EVANGELISTAM, Patrologia Latina 106: 1396D; 1397A – 1397B

Christian of Stavelot quite clearly states that the keys are intimately related to the powers of binding and loosing. Furthermore, he states that this gifting of power applies just as much to Peter as to the rest of the apostles and their successors in accordance with John 20: 19-23. Hrabanus Maurus also says much the same in the following: “The keys of the Kingdom of Heaven are themselves for discerning the knowledge and power that he names, with which the worthy ought to be received into the kingdom, while the unworthy ought to be secluded from the kingdom (Commentary on Matthew in Eight Books: PL 107: 992A).” These two men speak of the keys as having to do directly with binding and loosing of sins. In other words, they are the same. Therefore, when Hrabanus Maurus later says “[This power] is given to the rest of the apostles, witness yourself, he who after his passion and resurrection appears to them in triumph breathed and said to all: Receive the Holy Spirit….” In short, the other apostles receive the keys directly from Christ, not through Peter. This position is also reflected in the writings of Jerome:

If, however, Jovinianus should obstinately contend that John was not a virgin, (whereas we have maintained that his virginity was the cause of the special love our Lord bore to him), let him explain, if he was not a virgin, why it was that he was loved more than the other Apostles. But you say, Matthew 16:18 the Church was founded upon Peter: although elsewhere the same is attributed to all the Apostles, and they all receive the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and the strength of the Church depends upon them all alike, yet one among the twelve is chosen so that when a head has been appointed, there may be no occasion for schism.

St. Jerome, Against Jovianus, Book I: 26

The red is the argument of Jovian, while the blue is Jerome’s. Jerome clearly endorses a primate-like leadership position within the church, an idea and practice the Orthodox Church has never disputed. However, he quite clearly states that later in the Gospels, all of the apostles receive the keys. Since Jerome is referring to the Gospels, consequently this bestowal of the keys must come from Christ since he is referring to the Gospels. Augustine of Hippo believed likewise:

7. Let no one, however, separate these distinguished apostles. In that which was signified by Peter, they were both alike; and in that which was signified by John, they will both be alike hereafter. In their representative character, the one was following, the other tarrying; but in their personal faith they were both of them enduring the present evils of the misery here, both of them expecting the future good things of the blessedness to come. And such is the case, not with them alone, but with the holy universal Church, the spouse of Christ, who has still to be rescued from the present trials, and to be preserved in the future happiness. And these two states of life were symbolized by Peter and John, the one by the one, the other by the other; but in this life they both of them walked for a time by faith, and the other they shall both of them enjoy eternally by sight. For the whole body of the saints, therefore, inseparably belonging to the body of Christ, and for their safe pilotage through the present tempestuous life, did Peter, the first of the apostles, receive the keys of the kingdom of heaven for the binding and loosing of sins; and for the same congregation of saints, in reference to the perfect repose in the bosom of that mysterious life to come did the evangelist John recline on the breast of Christ. For it is not the former alone but the whole Church, that binds and looses sins; nor did the latter alone drink at the fountain of the Lord’s breast, to emit again in preaching, of the Word in the beginning, God with God, and those other sublime truths regarding the divinity of Christ, and the Trinity and Unity of the whole Godhead. which are to be yet beheld in that kingdom face to face, but meanwhile till the Lord’s coming are only to be seen in a mirror and in a riddle; but the Lord has Himself diffused this very gospel through the whole world, that every one of His own may drink thereat according to his own individual capacity. There are some who have entertained the idea— and those, too, who are no contemptible handlers of sacred eloquence— that the Apostle John was more loved by Christ on the ground that he never married a wife, and lived in perfect chastity from early boyhood.  There is, indeed, no distinct evidence of this in the canonical Scriptures: nevertheless it is an idea that contributes not a little to the suitableness of the opinion expressed above, namely, that that life was signified by him, where there will be no marriage.

Augustine of Hippo, Tractates on the Gospel of John, Tractate 124, 7

In the red segment above, Augustine, just like Hrabanus Maurus and Christian of Stavelot believed that the keys and the powers of binding and loosing were synonymous. The blue segment is Augustine clearly stating the entire Church has these keys. Now the Catholic might argue that the Church indeed does have these keys, but through Peter. This interpretation of Augustine is not possible, because earlier Augustine said the following:

The Church’s love, which is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, discharges the sins of all who are partakers with itself, but retains the sins of those who have no participation therein. Therefore it is, that after saying “Receive the Holy Ghost, (John 20: 22-23)” He straightway added this regarding the remission and retention of sins.

Augustine of Hippo, Tractates on the Gospel of John, Tractate 121, 4

Augustine clearly acknowledges that the powers of binding and loosing were given to the apostles. While a Catholic might object that this does not apply to the keys, it has already been established that within the same exact work of Augustine’s, the keys are the very same as the powers of binding and loosing. And if there be any doubt about Augustine’s intentions, let us look at the following:

12. But what follows? “For the poor you have always with you, but me ye will not have always” (John 12:8). We can certainly understand, “the poor you have always;” what He has thus said is true. When were the poor wanting in the Church? “But me ye will not have always;” what does He mean by this? How are we to understand, “Me ye will not have always?” Don’t be alarmed: it was addressed to Judas. Why, then, did He not say, “you will have,” but, “ye will have?” Because Judas is not here a unit. One wicked man represents the whole body of the wicked; in the same way as Peter, the whole body of the good, yea, the body of the Church, but in respect to the good. For if in Peter’s case there were no sacramental symbol of the Church, the Lord would not have said to him, I will give unto you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: whatsoever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven; and whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven (Matthew 16:19). If this was said only to Peter, it gives no ground of action to the Church. But if such is the case also in the Church, that what is bound on earth is bound in heaven, and what is loosed on earth is loosed in heaven,— for when the Church excommunicates, the excommunicated person is bound in heaven; when one is reconciled by the Church, the person so reconciled is loosed in heaven:— if such, then, is the case in the Church, Peter, in receiving the keys, represented the holy Church. If, then, in the person of Peter were represented the good in the Church, and in Judas’ person were represented the bad in the Church, then to these latter was it said, But me ye will not have always. But what means the not always; and what, the always? If you are good, if you belong to the body represented by Peter, you have Christ both now and hereafter: now by faith, by sign, by the sacrament of baptism, by the bread and wine of the altar.

Augustine of Hippo, Tractates on the Gospel of John, Tractate 50, 12

It is important to note with the highlighted and underlined blue segment that Augustine clearly defines both Peter and the Church. Peter is his person alone and the Church is more than his person. Augustine clearly states that the keys were not given to Peter alone because otherwise the Church is without power to act. Therefore, Peter was representative of the whole Church. The keys thus were not given to Peter’s person alone, but rather to the whole Church. Augustine reiterates this point in his final tractate on the Gospel of John:

So does the Church act in blessed hope through this troublous life; and this Church symbolized in its generality, was personified in the Apostle Peter, on account of the primacy of his apostleship. For, as regards his proper personality, he was by nature one man, by grace one Christian, by still more abounding grace one, and yet also, the first apostle; but when it was said to him, “I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven,” he represented the universal Church, which in this world is shaken by divers temptations, that come upon it like torrents of rain, floods and tempests, and falleth not, because it is founded upon a rock (petra), from which Peter received his name. For petra (rock) is not derived from Peter, but Peter from petra; just as Christ is not called so from the Christian, but the Christian from Christ. For on this very account the Lord said, “On this rock will I build my Church,” because Peter had said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” On this rock, therefore, He said, which thou hast confessed, I will build my Church. For the Rock (Petra) was Christ; and on this foundation was Peter himself also built. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Christ Jesus. The Church, therefore, which is rounded in Christ received from Him the keys of the kingdom of heaven in the person of Peter, that is to say, the power of binding and loosing sins. For what the Church is essentially in Christ, such representatively is Peter in the rock (petra); and in this representation Christ is to be understood as the Rock, Peter as the Church. This Church, accordingly, which Peter represented, so long as it lives amidst evil, by loving and following Christ is delivered from evil. But its following is the closer in those who contend even unto death for the truth. But to the universality [of the Church] is it said, “Follow me,” even as it was for the same universality that Christ suffered: of whom this same Peter saith, “Christ suffered for us, leaving us an example, that we should follow His footsteps” (1 Peter 2:21). This, then, you see is why it was said to him, “Follow me.”

Augustine of Hippo, Tractates on the Gospel of John, Tractate 124, 5

Once again, Augustine reiterates the point that Peter represents the church, particularly in the form of a primacy, which no Orthodox would object to. Additionally, he argues that Christ gives the keys directly to the Church, not through Peter, but to the Church. However, Augustine is also making an ecclesiological argument, some of which I’ve highlighted in blue. He states explicitly that Christ and the confession of faith is the rock upon which the Church will be built, and that the Church is Peter. In short, Augustine is making the case that all bishops are successors to Peter. This sentiment echoes those of St. Cyprian of Carthage:

4. If any one consider and examine these things, there is no need for lengthened discussion and arguments. There is easy proof for faith in a short summary of the truth. The Lord speaks to Peter, saying, “I say unto thee, that thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” And again to the same He says, after His resurrection, “Feed my sheep.” And although to all the apostles, after His resurrection, He gives an equal power, and says, “As the Father hath sent me, even so send I you: Receive ye the Holy Ghost: Whose soever sins ye remit, they shall be remitted unto him; and whose soever sins ye retain, they shall be retained;” yet, that He might set forth unity, He arranged by His authority the origin of that unity, as beginning from one. Assuredly the rest of the apostles were also the same as was Peter, endowed with a like partnership both of honour and power; but the beginning proceeds from unity. Which one Church, also, the Holy Spirit in the Song of Songs designated in the person of our Lord, and says, “My dove, my spotless one, is but one. She is the only one of her mother, elect of her that bare her.” Does he who does not hold this unity of the Church think that he holds the faith? Does he who strives against and resists the Church trust that he is in the Church, when moreover the blessed Apostle Paul teaches the same thing, and sets forth the sacrament of unity, saying, “There is one body and one spirit, one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God?”

Cyprian of Carthage, On the Unity of the Church, 4

Take note that Cyprian explicitly states that the rest of the apostles were given like authority of both power and honor. Now many of my Catholic readers might notice something missing in this translation that I have taken from the CCEL above. Notably, the following words are missing from the excerpt:

And the primacy is given to Peter, that there might be shown one Church of Christ and one See; and they are all shepherds, and the Rock is one, which is fed by all the apostles with unanimous consent.

He who deserts the chair of Peter, upon whom the Church is founded.

According to footnotes 3110 and 3112 of the CCEL translation, the above excerpts are interpolated and spurious. In other words, it is missing from the earliest of manuscripts. I encourage the reader to click on the linked translation above and check the footnote for themselves. Not surprisingly, this bit of information is missing from Catholic Answers’ tract on Peter’s Primacy, whereby the make use of this obvious spurious interpolation for their own gains. Let’s look at the Latin from the PL:

  1. Quae si quis consideret et examinet, tractatu longo atque argumentis opus non est. Probatio est ad fidem facilis compendio veritatis. Loquitur Dominus ad Petrum: Ego tibi dico, inquit, quia tu es Petrus, et [Col.0499A] super hancpetram aedificabo Ecclesiam meam, et portae inferorum non vincent eam. Et tibidabo clavesregni coelorum: et quaeligaveris super terram, erunt ligata et in coelis; et quaecumque solveris super terram, erunt soluta et in coelis(Matth. XVI, 18, 19). Et iterum eidem post resurrectionem suam dicit: Pasce oves meas(Joan. XXI, 15). Super illum unum aedificat Ecclesiam suam, et illi pascendas mandat oves suas. Et quamvis Apostolis omnibus post resurrectionem suam parem potestatem tribuat et dicat, Sicut misit me Pater, et ego mitto vos: accipite Spiritum sanctum; si cujusremiseritis peccata, remittentur illi, si cujus tenueritis, tenebuntur(Joan. XX, 21-23), tamen, ut unitatem manifestaret, unam cathedram constituit, unitatis ejusdem originem ab uno incipientem [Col.0500A]sua auctoritate disposuit. Hoc erant utique et caeteri Apostoli quod fuit Petrus, pari consortio praediti et honoris et testatis, sed exordium ab unitate proficiscitur, et primatus Petro datur, ut una Christi Ecclesia et cathedra una monstretur. Et pastores sunt omnes, et grex unus ostenditur, qui ab Apostolis omnibus unanimi consensione pascatur, ut Ecclesia Christi una monstretur. Quam unam Ecclesiam etiam in Cantico canticorum Spiritus sanctus ex persona Domini designat et dicit: Una est columba mea, perfecta mea, una est matri suae, electa genitrici suae(Cant. VI, 9). Hanc Ecclesiae unitiatem qui non tenet, tenere se fidem credit? Qui Ecclesiae renititur et resistit, qui cathedram Petri, super quem fundata est Ecclesia, deserit, in Ecclesia se [Col.0501A] esse confidit? quando et beatus apostolus Paulus hoc idem doceat et sacramentum unitatis ostendat dicens: Unum corpus et unus spiritus, una spes vocationis vestrae, unus Dominus, una fides, unum Baptisma, unus Deus(Ephes. IV, 4-6).

Cyprian of Carthage, On the Unity of the Church IV, Patrologia Latina 4: 0498B – 0499A

The bold underlined blue segments are the interpolated and spurious additions to the text. The footnote linked to the portions state the following:

Uncinis includuntur haec verba ac spuria in notis dicuntur ab edd.

Within the brackets these words are included, and are said to be spurious in the notes by the editor.

et plures edd. Resistit, in Ecclesia Oxon.,

Many editors [have] “resists the Church, confesses to be in the Church himself?”

And if anyone doubts the sincerity of the editor referenced in the PL, his name was Étiene Baluze, an 18th-century Catholic secretary to a French archbishop. He also had minor orders. So any accusation of bias against him is unfounded. It would have been in his interest not to acknowledge the spurious interpolation.

Brief Addendum to the Cyprian Textual Tradition

As it turns out, my arguments in favor of the interpolation of Cyprian’s On the Unity of the Church have long been overturned. In short, there were two versions of the text, both written by Cyprian. The text with the segment “He who deserts the chair of Peter, upon whom the Church is founded…” is now known as the Version A, while the other is known as the Version B. As to the exact reason why and when Cyprian developed the later version of Version B, this point seems to be somewhat a matter of historical debate. However, what is absolutely clear from the current scholarship on the matter is that neither version of the text can in any way be properly understood as supporting a Catholic notion of Petrine Primacy (Papal Supremacy). Maurice Bévenot says that it is difficult to claim whether Cyprian meant that communion with Rome was a necessity for membership in the Church (Bévenot, 21). Nevertheless, Bénevot does attempt to argue that Cyprian’s behavior contradicts his Orthodox theory of church hierarchy (Bévenot, 34-35). But Bévenot’s theory partly depends upon the idea that Cyprian wrote Version B during his fight with Pope Stephen I, arguing that Pope Stephen I perhaps used Cyprian’s text against him. This argument is pure speculation, however, since as Bévenot himself acknowledges, there are no extant writings of Stephen’s concerning the baptism controversy (Bévenot, 33-34). More recently, Stuart G. Hall has argued that Version B was composed not during the Baptism Controversy, but originated during the Novation Schism in which Cyprian attempted to convince his own flock and fellow bishops of North Africa not to side with Novatian (Hall, 138-146). In short, Cyprian never changed his position in an attitude of rebellion against Pope Stephen. It is much more likely that Cyprian’s understanding of ecclesiology forever remained consistent, which was undoubtedly an Orthodox ecclesiology. As another Catholic scholar, Fr. Johannes Quasten, argues: Cyprian clearly understood the primacy as one of honor and that the bishop of Rome was primus inter pares (Quasten, 374-378).

To read up on this quite interesting issue, I suggest reading the following:

E. W. Watson, “The Interpolations in St. Cyprian’s ‘De unitate ecclesiae’,” The Journal of Theological Studies 5, no. 19 (April, 1904): 432-436.

Maurice Bévenot, “‘Primatus Petro datur’: St. Cyprian on the Papacy,” The Journal of Theological Studies (New Series) 5, no. 1 (April, 1954): 19-35.

Stuart G. Hall, “The Versions of Cyprian, De unitate, 4-5. Bévenot’s Dating Revisited,” The Journal of Theological Studies (New Series) 55, no. 1 (April 2004): 138-146.

Johannes Quasten, Patrology, vol. 2 (Utrecht, Netherlands: Spectrum, 1950; Allen, Texas: Christian Classics, 1995): 374-378.

End of Addendum

Returning then to Cyprian’s ecclesiology, the exact same can be found in Alcuin of York’s commentary on the Gospel of John:

Tu es Christus Filius Dei vivi, et ei dicitur: Tibi dabo claves regni coelorum (Matth. XVI, 16, 19); tanquam ligandi et solvendi solus acciperet (Ms., acceperit) potestatem: cum et illud unus pro omnibus dixerit, et hoc cum omnibus tanquam personam gerens ipsius unitatis acceperit; ideo unus pro omnibus, quia unitas est in omnibus.

And he said to him: I will give to you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 16: 18-19); so to speak he [Peter] alone receives the powers of binding and loosing. And since that one man [Peter] must have spoken for everyone, and since here he must have received [the keys] as the bearing person of unity itself; therefore one [receives] for everyone, because unity is in everyone [of the apostles].

Alcuin of York, Commentary on the Gospel of John, Patrologia Latina 100: 0983A

Here Alcuin acknowledges that Peter is the first to be given this authority and thus bear unity. However, he also adds that unity is in everyone of the apostles. In other words, everyone of the bishops is a successor to Peter in a sense. Hence, all of the apostles have the keys directly from Christ. St. Bruno of Segni also says much the same:

Et tibi dabo claves regni coelorum. Hoc enim quod principaliter Petro [Col.0214B] dicitur, caeteris quoque apostolis dictum esse intelligi debet: et non tantum apostolis, verum etiam episcopis et sacerdotibus. Istis enim et claves et potestas a Domino data est, ut non solum Ecclesiam, sed et coelos aliis aperient.

Here in fact this statement is said principally to Peter, and it ought to be understood as being said to the rest of the apostles. And not only to the apostles, but truly also to the bishops and priests. In fact, the keys and powers themselves have been given by the Lord to not only will free the Church, but also to open the heavens to others.

Bruno of Segni, Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, Patrologia Latina 165: 0214A – 0214B

 The Second Argument: The Virtue of Being First and the Rock

I don’t intend on expounding much on this argument mainly because I feel that I have already made the case in my previous blog post that Peter is only the rock in a metaphorical sense. Sacred Tradition really doesn’t take the metaphor any further than a simple metaphor. Furthermore, the second argument states that all of the apostles were given the keys directly by Christ. However, if this were true, then I would like to ask such a Catholic then on what basis do they establish their understanding of primacy? The Orthodox understand the primacy of Peter, in general, as stemming from him being first as well. However, we do not take this to the extent that the Catholics do with Papal Supremacy.

And to the Catholic that professes this second argument, I must inform them as a former Catholic myself, that their understanding of the keys stands in direct conflict with Lumen Gentium, which states:

But the college or body of bishops has no authority unless it is understood together with the Roman Pontiff, the successor of Peter as its head. The pope’s power of primacy over all, both pastors and faithful, remains whole and intact. In virtue of his office, that is as Vicar of Christ and pastor of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church. And he is always free to exercise this power. The order of bishops, which succeeds to the college of apostles and gives this apostolic body continued existence, is also the subject of supreme and full power over the universal Church, provided we understand this body together with its head the Roman Pontiff and never without this head.(27*) This power can be exercised only with the consent of the Roman Pontiff. For our Lord placed Simon alone as the rock and the bearer of the keys of the Church,(156) and made him shepherd of the whole flock;(157) it is evident, however, that the power of binding and loosing, which was given to Peter,(158) was granted also to the college of apostles, joined with their head.(159)(28*)

Lumen Gentium Ch. 3, 22

First, it should be noted that the word “alone” applies equally to “rock” and to “bearer of the keys.” Second, let us examine supplementary note #28. This note links to a variety of statements made during the First Vatican Council in the 19th century. These statements mostly have to do with explaining where the unity of the church is located, that is with Peter. Moreover, the document specifically refers to one of St. Leo the Great’s sermons:

Hanc confessionem portae inferi non tenebunt, mortis vincula non ligabunt: vox enim ista, vox vitae est. Et sicut confessores suos in coelestia provehit, ita negatores ad inferna demergit. Propter quod dicitur beatissimo Petro: Tibi dabo claves regni coelorum. Et quaecumque ligaveris super terram, erunt ligata et in coelis; et quaecumquesolveris super terram, erunt soluta et in coelis(Matth. XVI 19). Transivit quidem etiam in alios apostolos jus potestatis istius, et ad omnes Ecclesiae principes decreti hujus constitutio commeavit; sed non frustra uni commendatur, quod omnibus intimetur. Petro enim ideo hoc singulariter creditur, quia cunctis Ecclesiae rectoribus Petri forma praeponitur. Manet ergo Petri privilegium, ubicumque ex ipsius fertur aequitate judicium. Nec nimia est vel severitas, vel remissio, ubi nihil erit ligatum, nihil solutum, nisi quod beatus Petrus aut solverit aut ligaverit. Instante autem passione sua, Dominus, quae discipulorum erat turbatura constantiam, Simon, inquit, Simon, ecce Satanas expostulavit vos, utcerneret sicut triticum. Ego autem rogavi pro te, ne deficiat fides tua. Et tu aliquando conversus confirma fratres tuos,ut non intretis in tentationem(Luc. XXII, 31, 32). Commune erat omnibus apostolis periculum de tentatione formidinis, et divinae protectionis auxilio pariter indigebant, quoniam diabolus omnes exagitare, omnes cupiebat elidere; et tamen specialis a Domino Petri cura suscipitur, et pro fide Petri proprie supplicatur, tamquam aliorum status certior sit futurus, si mens principis victa non fuerit. In Petro ergo omnium fortitudo munitur, et divinae gratiae ita ordinatur auxilium, ut firmitas, quae per Christum Petro tribuitur, per Petrum apostolis conferatur.

The gates of Hell will not hold this confession, the bonds will not bind dead. Indeed the voice itself is the voice of life. And just as he conveys his confessors into heaven, thus he casts his deniers into the flames. Because it is said to the most blessed Peter: To you I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whomever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whomever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven (Matthew 16:19). He also transferred the same authority of that power to the other apostles, and the nature of this decree is commissioned to the all of the princes of the Church. But not in error is it confided to one, because it is communicated to everyone. Indeed for that reason is it believed singularly by Peter, because the form of Peter is preferred over the rest of the leaders of the Church. Therefore, the privilege of Peter continues, wherever itself a fair judgment is carried out. Neither is it excessive or severe or diminishing [to say that] nothing will be bound, or nothing will be saved, unless that blessed Peter saves and binds. Moreover, in his great passion, the Lord, when the steadfastness of his disciples was about to be thrown into chaos, said: “Simon, Simon! Behold, Satan has asked for you, that me may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren (Luke 22:31-32). A common trial was with all of the apostles concerning the temptation of fear, and in like manner were requiring the help of a divine protector, since the devil torments everyone, everyone was desiring to escape. However, the specific care of Peter is supported by the Lord, and in particular on behalf of the faith of Peter is it beseeched, so to speak the status of the other [apostles] may be more secure, if the mind of the prince (foremost one) has not been conquered. Therefore, in Peter the strength of everyone is secured, and thus the help of divine grace is ordained, when the vigor, which is given through Christ to Peter, is conferred through Peter to the apostles.

Pope Leo the Great, Sermons IV, Patrologia Latina 54: 0150C – 0152A

Right here Pope Leo I is making the case that the office of Peter continues and that authority and strength is delegated to the rest of the apostles through Peter. In other words, it is not something directly from Christ, but something from Christ through Peter. Therefore, the second argument is not in keeping with Catholic dogma. It puzzles me that a Catholic would try to make such an argument.

As for Leo’s statement itself,  it directly conflicts with the ecclesiology mentioned by Augustine, Cyprian, and Alcuin. Instead of finding unity and authority in each bishopric, Leo seems to suggest that unity and authority is only sourced in the singular office of Peter. As for which ecclesiology someone wants to believe in, well I will leave that to the conscience of the reader. In the end, I have demonstrated quite clearly the all of the apostles received the keys directly from Christ and that to hold such a view is not in keeping with current Catholic ecclesiology.

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L’Homme Machine: La Mettrie’s Philosophy of Mind


I recently just finished reading Julien Jean Offray de La Mettrie’s L’Homme Machine and have come away with a surprising appreciation for this 18th century French materialist philosopher. Originally published in 1747, La Mettrie’s philosophical treatise argued in favor of classical materialism instead of Cartesian dualism in seeking to explain the human species. The major underpinnings of La Mettrie’s argument are both his full embrace of the philosophical works of John Locke and the medical science of his day.

One of the primary hallmarks of Cartesian dualism was the belief that human beings were composed of two distinct substances: a thinking substance (res cogitans) or soul and a physical material substance (res extensa). It is important to first note before proceeding that during this period res extensa/body/material matter was thought to comprise of extension, however, this is not how modern physicists think of material matter today, which is why I dub La Mettrie a classical materialist. In fact, as Noam Chomsky is apt to point out, there has not been a coherent notion of material matter since Sir Issac Newton dismantled René Descartes’ framework of it with the publication of Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica in 1687. What set human beings apart from the rest of the animals, as Cartesians argued, was the fact that humans have this res cogitans while animals do not. For the Cartesian philosophers, animals were just extremely complex machines without minds/souls.

La Mettrie rejects the Cartesian notion of res cogitans and argues that human beings are just as much an animal as any other. This is not to say that the mind/soul (L’Esprit / L’Ame), which should not be confused with the brain, does not exist. Rather, La Mettrie argues that the mind must be based upon physical/materialist principles. In short, all animals, including humans, have minds, but that these minds originate from material substances, not from a separate thinking substance (res cogitans). In order to prove his argument, La Mettrie looks for causation of not only mental events, but also bodily events. One such example is the thought experiment of the French king getting agitated for being in the cold. This is because, La Mettrie argues, the French king has not been raised in a cold environment. However, for those who have been raised in a cold environment, they would not be caused such discomfort.

In a more radical experiment, La Mettrie proposes that someone take a young monkey and place it within an urban human setting under the tutelage of a human tutor. The tutor is then to raise the monkey as though it were a human child. La Mettrie argues that the monkey, due to its intense similarities with human beings, would inevitably learn human language for thinking and profiting its own education. Clearly to modern day people, such a proposition is patently ridiculous. Monkeys do not have the mental capacities to do such feats.

Concerning motion itself, La Mettrie points to several medical experiments of his day whereby motion occurs in separated body parts and organs. In one experiment, he details the prodding of muscles which causes them to contract, and another where a human heart is tossed into a fire, whereby it begins to bounce. For La Mettrie, these experiments demonstrate that there is no need for a thinking substance or soul to cause motion. The body parts themselves move, albeit due to outside material forces.

He makes similar arguments concerning ideas and thought themselves. Following in the footsteps of Locke, La Mettrie believes that all ideas are generated due to the inputs of external factors via sensations and the processing of such by thought. This leads him to say:

La plus belle, la plus grande, ou la plus forte imagination, est donc la plus propre aux Sciences, comme aux Arts. Je ne décide point s’il faut plus d’esprit pour exceller dans l’Art des Aristotes, ou des Descartes, que dans celui des Euripides, ou des Sophocles; et si la Nature s’est mise en plus grands frais, pour faire Newton, que pour former Corneille, (ce dont je doute fort;) mais il est certain que c’est la seule imagination diversement appliquée, qui a fait leur différent triomphe et leur gloire immortelle.

The most fine, the most grand, or the strongest imagination is just as well exposed to the sciences as to the arts. I have not decided if it is necessary for the most excellent mind to excel in the art of Aristotle, or Descartes, than in the arts of Euripides, or Sophocles; and [whether] if Nature has placed more effort in forming Newton than in forming Corneille, (which I strongly doubt); but it is certain that only the imagination diversely applied has forged their various triumphs and immortal legacies.

Julien Jean Offray de La Mettrie, L’Homme Machine, 30 (FB Editions)

In short, exposure to new ideas and elements is fundamental to a good education, although one might quibble with La Mettrie’s staunch Lockeanisms. Despite these staunch proclamations of materialism, La Mettrie is eventually forced to concede the limitations of his theory insofar that he doesn’t fully account for thought. His theories offer the explanatory power as to how thought works, but he doesn’t explain why thought exists at all.Towards the end of his work La Mettrie says concerning the matter of thought:

Je crois la pensée si peu incompatible avec la matière organisée, qu’elle semble en être une propriété, telle que l’Electricité, la Faculté motrice, l’Impénétrabilité, l’Entendüe, etc.

I believe that thought is so little incompatible with organized material, that it seems to be a property of material matter such as electricity, motor faculty, impenetrability [due to the property of extension], hearing, etc.

Julien Jean Offray de La Mettrie, L’Homme Machine, 48 (FB Editions)

In the end, while La Mettrie feels that he has divested res cogitans of some of its most central elements of simplicity and centrality, he recognizes that there are still some aspects of it that he has not explained. However, whereas a Cartesian might seek to use this mystery to justify the existence of res cogitans, La Mettrie holds out the hope that one day it might fully be explained in materialistic terms. In some sense, La Mettrie’s hope is very similar to the modern thesis proposed by some cognitive neuroscientists: that things mental arise from brain states.

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Catholic Proof Texts and One-liners for Papal Primacy Debunked: Part One

If there isn’t anything more annoying to an Orthodox individual who happens to engage in debate with a Catholic, it is the endless proof texts that Catholics trudge out to prove their case for their version of papal primacy, namely that the pope is unique and reigns supreme over all of the other bishops. This authority of the pope, according to Catholics, is due solely by the virtue of the pope holding the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven and being the actual rock of the Church. I have heavily criticized such a position before using Latin exegeses from approximately 400 AD to 1200 AD. In that previous post, I had made the case that Sacred Tradition regards the keys given to Peter in Matthew 16:18-19 as the exact same as the powers of binding and loosing, and that at a minimum the rest of the apostles were given these keys. Additionally, Sacred Tradition also regarded Peter as the rock only in metaphorical terms. Nevertheless, as important of a historical and theological revelation as this might be, to a dedicated Catholic believer such truths might not be enough. Instead, what is often resorted to in recourse is to turn to proof texts that have been used for centuries by Catholic apologists to justify their understanding of papal primacy.

What is often characteristic of these so-called “proof texts” is that they are unusually short and come from various genres of literature. As such, they are easily taken out of context. In the case of being excruciatingly short, allow me to provide an example of an instance where something is taken out of context and thus offers a very different picture:

Out+of+context+hilarity+big3+dagashi+kashi+big3_b17da9_5845248Now one would assume that she might be talking about some new and latest drug from the picture, but in actuality she is talking about the latest candy that one could find at a Dagashi store (roughly equivalent to a candy and snack store). As we can see from this example, context very much requires more than single lines. Otherwise, we are prone to misunderstanding. Contextualization is a basic reading skill taught from childhood here in the First World, and we would be foolish not to use it.

As for the latter portion concerning genres of literature, it is somewhat related to the former. Letters and other theological tracts are much easier to take out of context than exegeses. The reason for this is because when one quotes from letters et al, they usually don’t provide the historical scenario unto which the author of the text was writing. The reader of the one-liner “proof-text” has no way of knowing what the full conversation was or what it might have been, because there is no evidence to provide additional clues. All they have is the single solitary line of text in front of them. Meanwhile, within the genre of exegesis, when one quotes from such writings, the reader has a pretty good idea of what the writer is referring to and the full context in which they are writing. This is because Late Antique and Medieval exegeses usually involved commentary verse by verse and line by line. The author almost always quoted the scripture that they were referring to, and it is because of such detailed writing that it makes it much more difficult to take exegeses from the Late Antique and Medieval periods out of context.

Now I will tackle some of the proof-texts that Catholics generally offer in favor of papal authority. By no means is this list meant to be comprehensive, as they are numerous. And neither am I sure how many parts this series of posts will have. However, I do hope to chip away at these fallacies that Catholic apologists have rendered through their poor readings. My efforts of course will be limited due to the fact that I do not have reading knowledge of Greek. Many of their proof-texts are translations from the Greek, albeit removed from their context. Therefore, I am restricted to finding the full sources of their quotes not in the original Greek, but in either English, Latin, German, or French so that I might provide the full context of their quotes.

[Christ] made answer: ‘You are Peter, and upon this rock will I build my Church. . . .’ Could he not, then, strengthen the faith of the man to whom, acting on his own authority, he gave the kingdom, whom he called the rock, thereby declaring him to be the foundation of the Church?

St. Ambrose of Milan, Exposition on the Christian Faith, Book IV, Ch. 5: 57

There is nothing contradicting here in this quote to an Orthodox understanding of Peter and papal authority. In fact, this understanding accords well with Jerome’s understanding of Peter as the rock and foundation of the Church in a metaphorical sense. Orthodox understand that Christ and the faith in Christ are the foundation of the Church, not Peter.

‘But,’ you [Jovinian] will say, ‘it was on Peter that the Church was founded’ [Matt. 16:18]. Well . . . one among the twelve is chosen to be their head in order to remove any occasion for division…

St. Jerome, Against Jovianus, Book I: 26

Jerome’s understanding of Peter and the rock of the Church is, as I stated before, in accordance with an Orthodox understanding. Let us look at the full context of this quote:

If, however, Jovinianus should obstinately contend that John was not a virgin, (whereas we have maintained that his virginity was the cause of the special love our Lord bore to him), let him explain, if he was not a virgin, why it was that he was loved more than the other Apostles. But you say, Matthew 16:18 the Church was founded upon Peter: although elsewhere the same is attributed to all the Apostles, and they all receive the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and the strength of the Church depends upon them all alike, yet one among the twelve is chosen so that when a head has been appointed, there may be no occasion for schism.

St. Jerome, Against Jovianus, Book I: 26

Note that the red is Jerome quoting Jovinianus’ argument, while the blue is Jerome’s own argument. The full context here reveals quite the different picture, doesn’t it?

Blessed Simon, who after his confession of the mystery was set to be the foundation-stone of the Church, and received the keys of the Kingdom…

St. Hilary of Poitiers, On the Trinity Book VI: 20

Let me stress that Orthodox do not dispute that Peter received the keys nor that he was privileged in being the first. What we do dispute, again, is that it ended with him and thereby all are subject to him and his successors. Now, allow me to quote the same work of Hilary, which supports the Orthodox position:

36. A belief that the Son of God is Son in name only and not in nature, is not the faith of the Gospels and of the Apostles. If this be a mere title, to which adoption is His only claim; if He be not the Son in virtue of having proceeded forth from God, whence, I ask, was it that the blessed Simon Bar-Jona confessed to Him, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God Matthew 16:16 ? Because He shared with all mankind the power of being born as one of the sons of God through the sacrament of regeneration? If Christ be the Son of God only in this titular way, what was the revelation made to Peter, not by flesh and blood, but by the Father in heaven? What praise could he deserve for making a declaration which was universally applicable? What credit was due to Him for stating a fact of general knowledge? If He be Son by adoption, wherein lay the blessedness of Peter’s confession, which offered a tribute to the Son to which, in that case, He had no more title than any member of the company of saints? The Apostle’s faith penetrates into a region closed to human reasoning. He had, no doubt, often heard, He that receives you receives Me, and He that receives Me receives Him that sent Me. Matthew 10:40 Hence he knew well that Christ had been sent; he had heard Him, Whom he knew to have been sent, making the declaration, All things are delivered unto Me of the Father, and no one knows the Son but the Father, neither knows any one the Father save the Son. What then is this truth, which the Father now reveals to Peter, which receives the praise of a blessed confession? It cannot have been that the names of ‘Father’ and ‘Son’ were novel to him; he had heard them often. Yet he speaks words which the tongue of man had never framed before:— You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. For though Christ, while dwelling in the body, had avowed Himself to be the Son of God, yet now for the first time the Apostle’s faith had recognised in Him the presence of the Divine nature. Peter is praised not merely for his tribute of adoration, but for his recognition of the mysterious truth; for confessing not Christ only, but Christ the Son of God. It would clearly have sufficed for a payment of reverence, had he said, You are the Christ, and nothing more. But it would have been a hollow confession, had Peter only hailed Him as Christ, without confessing Him the Son of God. And so his words You are declare that what is asserted of Him is strictly and exactly true to His nature. Next, the Father’s utterance, This is My Son, had revealed to Peter that he must confess You are the Son of God, for in the words This is, God the Revealer points Him out, and the response, You are, is the believer’s welcome to the truth. And this is the rock of confession whereon the Church is built. But the perceptive faculties of flesh and blood cannot attain to the recognition and confession of this truth. It is a mystery, Divinely revealed, that Christ must be not only named, but believed, the Son of God. Was it only the Divine name; was it not rather the Divine nature that was revealed to Peter? If it were the name, he had heard it often from the Lord, proclaiming Himself the Son of God. What honour, then, did he deserve for announcing the name? No; it was not the name; it was the nature, for the name had been repeatedly proclaimed.

37. This faith it is which is the foundation of the Church; through this faith the gates of hell cannot prevail against her. This is the faith which has the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatsoever this faith shall have loosed or bound on earth shall be loosed or bound in heaven. This faith is the Father’s gift by revelation;

St. Hilary of Poitiers, On the Trinity, Book VI: 36

As can be shown again, Hilary supports the Orthodox understanding, not the Catholic understanding. The keys are the powers of binding and loosing, and all those who have the faith, have the keys. The keys are not exclusive to Peter and his successors.

Peter, the chief of the Apostles, is recalled and the remaining members of the Church are glorified with him for indeed the Church of God is established upon him. This is accord with the Lord’s words who made him the firm and most solid rock upon which he had built his Church [cf. Mt 16.16ff].

St. Gregory of Nyssa, Two Homilies Concerning Saint Stephen

One must understand that Gregory speaks of Peter’s name as a play on words, and throughout this particular work refers to Peter, James, and John as equally important and equal leaders. He refers to the names of James and John as the “sons of thunder” just as Peter is a rock. This is the appropriate context for understanding:

Peter, the chief of the Apostles, is recalled and the remaining members of the Church are glorified with him for indeed the Church of God is established upon him. This is accord with the Lord’s words who made him the firm and most solid rock upon which he had built his Church [cf. Mt 16.16ff]. Then we have mention of James, John and [J.105] as sons of thunder whom the Savior had named and who had brought rain clouds; for the gathering of clouds by necessity herald rain. Thus the clouds represent Apostles and prophetic words; although times of preaching differ, nevertheless the laws of true religion are in harmony and one spirit is the source of various gifts….

St. Gregory of Nyssa, Two Homilies Concerning Saint Stephen

A full reading of this work, which I have linked above, would dispel any notion of Gregory supporting the Catholic position. It is not a long work, and I highly recommend it.

This Peter on whom Christ freely bestowed a sharing in his name. For just as Christ is the Rock, as the Apostle Paul taught, so through Christ Peter is made Rock, when the Lord says to him: ‘Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build My church.’

St. Maximus of Turin, Homilia LXVIII, Patrologia Latina 57: 0394A

Note: Translation is not my own, although I cite the original Latin in the PL. The PL can be found freely available on Google Books.

This actually conforms to the Orthodox understanding and to Jerome’s understanding of it as a metaphor, and it actually matches up quite nicely with St. Bruno of Segni’s interpretation in particular.

After carefully considering all of these proof-texts here, it seems abundantly apparent that they do not support the Catholic interpretation of papal primacy, but rather support the Orthodox view of papal primacy, that is a primacy of honor.

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