Why “oikonomia” isn’t a solution for divorced and civilly remarried.

Click to PRE-ORDER

Italian writers have finally gotten to the section by Archbp. Cyril Vasil, SJ, in The Book, that is, the “Five Cardinals” book in defense of the Catholic teaching on marriage.

Available now in the UK: HERE

 Archbishop Vasil is Secretary of the Congregation for Oriental Churches.

Sandro Magister has an entry today in which he focuses on Archbp. Vasil’s essay “Separation, Divorce, Dissolution of the Bond, and Remarriage: Theological and Practical Approaches of the Orthodox Churches.  There is an extensive excerpt too.

Magister’s introductory comments:

The example of the Orthodox Churches that allow second marriages is an argument enlisted by those who want the Catholic Church to set aside the ban on communion for the divorced and remarried, with Cardinal Walter Kasper in the lead.

Pope Francis gave them a big nudge with the sibylline “parenthesis” that he opened and closed in a conversation with journalists on the return flight from Rio de Janeiro on July 28, 2013:

“But also – a parenthesis – the Orthodox have a different practice. They follow the theology of what they call oikonomia, and they give a second chance, they allow it. But I believe that this problem – and here I close the parenthesis – must be studied within the context of the pastoral care of marriage.”

The commonly held idea is that second and even third marriages are celebrated sacramentally in the Orthodox Churches, and communion is given to the divorced and remarried. And this in continuity with the “merciful” practice of the Church in the early centuries.

But the reality is very far from these fantasies. Second marriages entered into the practice of the Eastern Churches in a later era, toward the end of the first millennium. They entered under the invasive influence of civil legislation, of which the Church was the executrix.

In any case, second and third marriages were never considered a sacrament. They were allowed under various more or less expansive forms in this or that area of Orthodoxy. The dissolution of first marriages was almost always for these Churches the simple transcription of a sentence of divorce issued by the civil authority.

The Orthodox Churches themselves do not help to specify this practice of theirs in a theologically and juridically clear form. The proof of this is the serious difficulty in which pastors in the Catholic Church find themselves in coming to grips with mixed marriages in which the Orthodox party comes from a marriage that has been dissolved on both the civil and religious level.

This knowledge gap is filled in, in the text reproduced further below, by an authority in this field, Archbishop Cyril Vasil (in the photo), a 49-year-old Slovak Jesuit, secretary of the Vatican congregation for the Oriental Churches and a former dean of the faculty of canon law at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome.

The text is an extract from the extensive and well-documented article that Vasil dedicated to the theme in this multi-author book to be released in early October in the United States and Italy.[…]

The book, conceived of as a contribution to the upcoming synod on the family, has ignited lively reactions on account of the presence among its authors of cardinals Gerhard L. Müller, prefect of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, Walter Brandmüller, Raymond L. Burke, Velasio De Paolis, and Carlo Caffarra, all of them severely critical of the ideas of their colleague Kasper. Who has counterattacked by asserting that Francis had “agreed” with him on his proposals and therefore “the target of the polemics is not me, but the pope.” [Which claim is nothing short of ridiculous.]

But while the five cardinals had already presented their positions in previous statements – presented again in the book with their explicit cooperation, unlike the inventions [like those of Vecchi] that the media chimes in with Kasper’s remonstrations – Vasil’s article on divorce and second marriages in the Eastern Churches is an absolute novelty, on a matter among the least known and most misunderstood, and yet of extraordinary significance and relevance.

This essay by Archbp. Vasil could have the effect of a nuke on any discussion of oikonomia during the upcoming Synod.  It’s effects will probably be felt after the Synod as well.

I also direct your attention back to something on oikonomia which I posted HERE.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in One Man & One Woman, Our Catholic Identity and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. eulogos says:

    I recently read on the “Catholic and Orthodox:Steps Towards a Reunited Church” Facebook page that the Catholic Church recognizes the decisions of Orthodox authorities about a marriage. The person stated that when he, an Orthodox whose first marriage had been ended and this was recognized by his Orthodox church, that heonly had to get a written statement from his priest that he was free to marry as far as the Orthodox Church was concerned, and he was able to marry a Catholic without an annulment process. Is this how things are supposed to go, officially?

    I thought the post above was going to get to discussing this, but it didn’t.
    I suppose the answer is that I should read the book.
    Susan Peterson

  2. Jimbo says:

    I am not familiar with all this blog/post etc., but I wanted to apologize to Fr Z for my lack of understanding of satire (at the time). I wanted to apologize in the most public forum on his site but I don’t know how to, so here it is. I’m sorry, and thanks again for your Service to the MBC!

  3. Jimbo: I don’t know what MBC means, but thanks.

  4. THREEHEARTS says:

    Father you have not taken into account of the Ukrainian Church position on second marriages developed after the 2nd world war when so many men vanished from the Ukraine because of the mass sentencing, the exiling to Siberia by the Russians let alone the mass executions by the Germans.
    I also wonder about the passage in, I think in Isaiah when the Hebrew women after the mass extermination by their enemies cried out, “Lend me your Name

  5. YoungLatinMassGuy says:

    Is there something about “…till death do you part…” or “…all the days of my life…” or “What God has joined together let no one separate.” (Mark 10:9) or “…One flesh… what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Matthew 19:6) that is just too complicated for some people (both within and outside of the Church) to understand?

    From my own reading of Catholic writings, as a simple layman, there really is no such thing as an “ex-wife” or an “ex-husband” within Catholic theology. In the case of annulments, you may have had all the bells and whistles of a wedding, everyone might have been dressed up, and thought it was a wedding, but no Sacrament took place, and no wedding took place. The other person was never your spouse to begin with, so they can’t rightly be called an “ex-wife/husband”.

    If the Sacrament did take place, then until the other person dies, you’re married to them. End of debate. Ecclesia Dei locuta est. Causa finita est. (Yes, I’ve taken some liberties with that quote that’s attributed to St. Augustine, but I think and hope that he’d approve.) That person will never be your “ex”, no matter how hard you try. If they die before you, then they will be your “former-spouse”, or vice-versa, you die first, then you become the “former-spouse”.

    Hate to say it, but I think and fear that I take marriage more seriously than the vast majority of my peers in my age-range of the mid-late twenties…

  6. Andrew says:

    Since the said article mentions St. Jerome, allow me to quote a sentence from St. Jerome’s Letter No. 48 “ad Pammachium”:

    (… juxta sententiam Domini, uxorem excepta causa fornicationis non repudiandam, et repudiatam, vivo marito, alteri non nubere: aut certe viro suo debere reconciliari.)

    In accordance with the Lord’s sentence (teaching), a wife is not to be rejected (repudiated) except in a case of adultery (fornication), and if rejected, not to marry another while the husband lives: or certainly to be reconciled to her husband.

    Notice how clear, how air-tight this statement is: there is no room to introduce some alternative interpretation. And this was S. Jerome in the fourth century.

  7. TWF says:

    It is possible to have an ex-spouse in the case of a purely natural marriage. The Church can and does dissolve valid, natural (non-sacramental) marriages. In this case, one or both of the spouses was not baptized. See the Pauline and Petrine privileges.

  8. Tom Piatak says:

    I have had the pleasure of reading Archbishop Vasil’s essay. It is both illuminating and powerful.

  9. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    The 2256-words of excerpts which Sandro Magister provides certainly make the thought of reading Archbishop Cyril Vasil’s whole contribution an attractive one!

    I would gladly know more about Eastern and Western practice and discussion during the 318 years from the death of Justinian (565), when Pope John III was ruling Rome as his official, until the Nomoncanon of Photius (883), and similarly during the following 161 years until the carefully composed 17,000-word letter to the Patriarch of Constantinople, Michael Cerularius, in the name of Leo IX characterized the Church of Constantinople as a “confabulation of heretics, a conventicle of schismatics, a synagogue of Satan”. That period after Justinian’s promulgation of Novella 117 is, after all, a period longer than that from the special English court which (as they and he saw it) decided on the nullity of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon’s marriage in 1533 and today!

  10. Joe in Canada says:

    The word “novelty” is unfortunate in this essay. [Please explain.]

  11. Cheesesteak Expert says:

    Fr Zed –
    In Roman Catholic theology, does a marriage end with the death of one spouse? a la “till death do us part”? If the answer is yes, then here is a dividing line between East and West that often gets missed; for, if I am not mistaken, in the East the first marriage is forever, i.e. beyond death. And so a second marriage in the East, whether the spouse of the first marriage is alive or not, is NEVER, EVER celebrated in the same joyous manner sacramentally as the first. The service is much more penitential, a concession to fallen human nature.
    In contrast, I have witnessed many a second marriage among Roman Catholics that was no less joyous liturgically than the first.
    Some food for thought.

  12. Chon says:

    Joe in Canada: I agree. The word “novelty” has the connotation of “innovation.” And we know what the Orthodox and the orthodox think of innovation! (Of course, that is not what the essayist meant to convey).

  13. Stephen Matthew says:

    RE: novelty

    Or perhaps it used the term precisely to emphasize that point.

    RE: till death do us part

    Yes, the Catholic view of marriage is that it lasts (at least in so far as being binding to the exclusion of others) only as long as the natural lives of both spouses. The Lord was asked which of a woman who married seven brothers, one after the other, as each one died, which would be here husband at the resurrection. The Lord answered that in the resurrection there is neither marrying nor giving in marriage. So it seems that while marriage may make some sort of sacramental mark, it may even establish an eternal bond of sorts, it seems not to be particularly relevant after this present world.

  14. Pat says:

    Also, today’s beatification, with Pell and Muller present, may indicate that Opus Dei has still a role to play in this doctrinal disputes http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zndy2Ej84vg&list=UUwe2LtVhclgOLqRKjxKcCDQ

    Even the NYT wrote about today’s event in Madrid

  15. jhayes says:

    Cheesecake Expert, in Mark’s version, Jesus answers the question about the woman who marries seven brothers in succession (after each dies), this way

    Jesus said to them, “Is not this the reason you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven”.

    Mark 12:24-25

    Matthew and Luke are similar.

    Jesus did not comment, one way or another, on the biblical requirement that if a married man died without a son, his brother should marry his widow in order to give her a son who would carry on the first brother’s name.

  16. jhayes says:

    Bishop Vasil’s article seems to say that the Orthodox churches do permit divorce (not simply a determination that no valid marriage ever existed):

    The [Russian Orthodox] Synod established on April 7 and 20, 1918, that marriage blessed by the Church is indissoluble. Divorce “is admitted by the Church only in condescension to human weakness and out of care for the salvation of man”, on the conditions that there has been a breakup of the marriage and that reconciliation is impossible. The decision to concede an ecclesiastical divorce falls under the competence of the ecclesiastical tribunals, which work at the request of the spouses, provided that the reason presented for divorce conforms to those approved by the Holy Synod. […]

    The Russian Orthodox Church today admits fourteen valid reasons for permitting divorce.
    Often one simply finds in this documentation an ecclesiastical divorce decree, together with the request presented by the interested party, a statement that the couple has not been living together, and an indication that a civil divorce has been granted. Following this, the dissolution of the religious marriage and permission to remarry is granted.
    Looking now at both the Russian Orthodox and Greek Orthodox Churches’ policies and practices, we see that valid motives for divorce can be divided in three groups:

    1. Adultery and other similar immoral acts;
    2. Physical or legal situations similar to death (disappearance, attempted homicide, incurable illness, detention, separation for a long period, etc.);
    3.Moral impossibility of a common life (encouragement of adultery).

    “In condescension to human weakness” sounds remarkably like Jesus’s statement that “It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” (Matthew 19:8)

  17. Vecchio di Londra says:

    In its mainstream meaning – at least, the one that applies to Orthodox pastoral care – it would seem sensible to translate ‘oikonomia’ by ‘[pastoral] management’. Which makes it pretty vague.
    But in its everyday popular usage in Greece – and words usually are influenced by how they are widely used – the word is mainly applied to saving expenditure, making do, cutting down, tightening the belt, as in the phrase ‘to make economies’ in English. So it carries a strong sense of not spending any more than is absolutely necessary, giving way to human frailty and impatience, and hence (pastorally) of not expecting compliance with regulations, just to prevent a general uprising in what is after all a Greek national church, in the same way that motorists are not expected to observe red lights at pedestrian crossings at night, except where the Athens Traffic Police is actually visibly on the spot. This is the unedifying background to the ‘oikonomia’ of the Orthodox Church, the latitude it allows on certain questions, such as divorce.
    (Is anyone reminded of the phrase ‘tolerated but not accepted…’?)

    That, of course, is no way to run any religion, and certainly not that of Christ’s Church. As one despairing Greek Orthodox friend told me: ‘The last thing you should be doing is to copy us!’

  18. frival says:

    I’m brought to wonder just what effect all this thrashing the Orthodox position on oikonomia is going to have on attempts at reunification when all of the dust settles on the Catholic side of this debate. In my admittedly limited experience they seem to be quite defensive about even their prudential decisions let alone questions of theology.

Comments are closed.