On the face of it, the answer is clear and straightforward. Christ preached the sanctity and indestructibility of marriage, and He also viewed adultery as grounds for divorce. The reasoning is obvious. In a marriage, two become one flesh, but infidelity puts an end to this unity. There can no longer be a one-flesh union when someone enters a physical relationship with anyone other than their spouse. Adultery deals their marriage a fatal blow, regardless of the adulterer’s behaviour or the reaction of the other spouse. When adultery occurs, a divorce is not just permitted – it is expected.
However, the modern world takes a more matter of factly view of adultery, – and people who share it will often misunderstand the uncompromising reaction of the Church towards adulterers and its flat refusal to condone their behaviour. On the contrary, many people come to Church looking for compassion. They often see their spouse’s demand for divorce as an overreaction to a trivial matter. Many adulterous men and women have said to me, “Yes, I have cheated. The devil seduced me. It can happen to anyone, but she is asking me to leave, and does not want to hear any excuses.” When I say that their spouse is right, I hit a wall of misunderstanding. “But does not the Church call for patience and forgiveness of another? Why cannot they forgive,” they would object. However, by refusing to sympathise with adulterers and condone their behaviour, the Church acts in agreement with the Gospel and its conscience. It also recognises the realities of life. Someone who betrays once will betray again. Infidelity becomes routine.
What if the spouses had had a church wedding?
Many believers and non-believers share the misperception that a church wedding is a lifelong bond that unites the spouses for the rest of their lives. They seem to think, wrongly, that a church wedding lasts the whole life and beyond. The truth is far more simple: the sacrament of the church wedding gives the spouses a lease of God’s grace for their future family life. How they will benefit from it is the responsibility of the couple. Their choices will determine the future of their relationship. If their marriage falls apart for any reason, the blessing will become invalid. In other words, the dissolution of the marriage puts an end to the former spouses’ joint life, and nothing will keep them together anymore. To think that one spouse must tolerate the infidelity of the other to keep the church marriage is a grave misconception. A single act of infidelity puts an end to it. There is nothing more to keep, to be patient for or to protect. What makes adultery in a church marriage different is that beyond the breach of trust and the breakdown of the family, the adulterer is also guilty of abusing the blessing from God. It is perfectly normal to ask a disloyal spouse for a divorce. To the guilty party that argues that a church marriage is not for dissolution, I will say this: divorce is not the fault of the party that asked for it, but of the one whose actions had led to it. Infidelity in a church marriage aggravates the guilt of the disloyal spouse. They should see the sanctification of their marriage at the church as yet another reason to blame themselves for not keeping their family together and for wasting the gift of God’s grace.
What if the couple had had no church wedding?
This may surprise you, but the Church recognises as a marriage, any union of a man and a woman entered under any law or religious tradition, except, perhaps, the tradition of some religious sects. Secular or non-Christian, it will still be married in the eyes of the Church, simply because the parties assume documented and formal obligations when they enter it. The Church will not tolerate infidelity in such a marriage any more than in a marriage that it had sanctified. Adultery will always be adultery.
Is it possible to have s church marriage after adultery?
Honestly, this question would never have come to my mind, but I have heard it many times from others. In principle, the answer is self-evident: what kind of church wedding are we talking about for a couple whose relationship has broken, and the only reasonable thing one can do is give them a divorce? How is it possible to marry someone at church who had demonstrated a capability for deception, betrayal and meanness? It might be possible to glue together a broken glass, but you cannot make it look new. In this sense, having a church wedding after adultery looks like an attempt to drink from it.
But let us not rush to conclusions. People’s situations may differ. I have seen examples of one spouse forgiving the infidelity of the other, and the adulterer honestly repenting their sin. That happens in families where the spouses had estranged themselves from one another without noticing it, resulting in the infidelity of one. In very rare cases, the forgiveness of one spouse and the repentance of the other restores the closeness between them that they had once lost. In these situations, a church wedding would not just be appropriate, but also desirable.
But let us not delude ourselves – such examples are one in a million. Generally, the consequences of marital infidelity are tragic. No party in a marriage should ever contemplate adultery. Loyalty and fidelity are precious gifts and a blessing from God.