Prepared for the Sacred Synod in March 2002
The Sacred Synod, of orthodox bishops and clergy, is some six months away – March 12th to 14th 2002. Have you, clerical brethren, cleared those days in your diary and begun to make your plans to go to Westminster, and have you started to think about what needs to be discussed and prayed about?
One of its principal concerns will be some form of response, statement, undertaking and commitment concerning marriage and marriage discipline. The Scott-Joynt booklet and the chaos of its aftermath reveal the need for clear, traditional teaching and practice. This then is a draft text of what might be passed by the Synod. It is only a trial draft, it is not a foregone conclusion and there is no hidden agenda. An explanation, then, of how it came about. I am well aware that any description will be loaded: try not to take my words too precisely, for any summary will be lopsided.
With the encouragement of the PEVs in general, and Bishop Edwin in particular, Cost of Conscience organized two series of John Keble Conferences to consider the issues surrounding marriage and remarriage that ought to be brought to Synod, and to see whether some form of consensus existed among traditionalists.
Very roughly, it appeared from the papers and discussions in London, York and Bristol, and via email in between, that: a) there was a clear desire in the context of the current chaos in the CofE to rediscover our connections with the thinking of the wider Church; a need to move out of the painted corner of possessing the sternest marriage discipline, while lacking the conviction to enforce it; b) there was a clear desire to restate the elements of traditional teaching on marriage, and not merely get tied up with divorce; c) there was a serious attempt to work towards a coherent marriage discipline, that could be administered by the PEVs and supported in our parishes.
The draft statement therefore has three sections. In the first we acknowledge the constraints of our tradition, that we are part of Western Christendom and an established church with a historic responsibility as guardian of a social institution. We do not start from where we would like to begin, but from our historical context.
The second part is a very brief sketch of the crucial elements that make up a Christian understanding of marriage. To have said it all would have been to write a book, and to offer more than could be reasonably discussed. There is, nevertheless, real substance here: I would expect further work to be done within our integrity following any agreed statement at Synod; the biblical work for example was sadly neglected elsewhere, but there is much more. There is real teaching to be done, and this section would establish a foundation for that work.
The third part will probably excite the most interest and debate. At present the CofE leaves the question of marriage discipline to the state; as the secular world diverges further and further from the model of marriage it inherited from the Church, it becomes increasingly necessary to reassert the Christian understanding. If the House of Bishops is correct that the CofE must have a consistent and coherent discipline, but wrong in its proposals, then we must not merely criticize theirs, but establish and practice our own discipline; not contrary to anything that General Synod might devise, but something with substance.
The elaboration of void, voidable and akin-to-void marriages provides both the basis for a marriage discipline and clear teaching on what marriage is. The legal constraints on what makes a true marriage are as important in establishing the institution and sacrament as the general truths of the earlier section; without them (as the House of Bishops discovered in their 1999 pamphlet) the Christian verities come to sound like pious generalizations.
Note that this third section does not allow for remarriage in church after divorce, but only marriage after a previous contract has been shown not to have been such. This means that the incumbent inquiring into the past will be asking not, ‘Was it a good divorce?’ but ‘Was there a marriage in the first place?’ The intention is not to change the Church’s understanding of marriage and its indissolubility, but to reinforce it.
This draft gained ‘near unanimous support’ from the participants at those day conferences. What does that mean? Not that we would all look for exactly the same list of categories in the third part, nor that we could not still argue about the wording of the second, or indeed the first. Myself, I do not like the language of the last part; it has been written by lawyers for lawyers, and lacks the teaching element of other Churches’ models. But none of this is to the point at the moment. There will be much to debate when we meet in Westminster, and it was never the intention of the conferences to preclude that debate.
The support it commands derives from the desire to share a common expression of the Church’s traditional understanding, to see it expressed in terms that derive from our historical circumstances, to have it in a form that can command agreement not only within our own parishes, but far wider. In other words, we believe that the Church’s teaching on marriage, and the practical working out of that teaching, is part of why we wish to be ‘free to evangelize’ (you remember that phrase!).
Like many others next March, I will probably not agree with every part of the final resolution; but it is not about what you and I think; it is about the teaching and discipline of the Church; it is part of what we meant at the first Synod by the gift of authority. As a parish priest, I do not want to be a law unto myself, but to follow the discipline of the Church; the 1957 Convocation Regulations, while not wrong, do not by themselves best express that tradition; this text does far better, and if accepted by our bishops and clergy assembled, would do better still. I would commend it for serious consideration.
I have no authority to suggest where any responses should be sent. If you do not know the participants mentioned in this and earlier editions of ND, perhaps send an email to FiF, clearly marked ‘Marriage’ and it can be sent on to the relevant person – probably Fr Jonathan Redvers-Harris, who has been guiding this process.
BELOW FOLLOWS THE TEXT OF THE DRAFT DECLARATION
A Western Theology of Marriage
Its substance and implications
The following DRAFT DECLARATION commands near-unanimous support from the participants of the ‘Second Time of Asking’ workshops organized by Cost of Conscience. It is now offered for discussion within and without ‘the constituency’ in the hope that this, or something like it, could be made at the Sacred Synod being called for March 2002 by the Provincial Episcopal Visitors of the Church of England and the Provincial Assistant Bishop of the Church in Wales.
Such a declaration would not, of course, stand alone; it would need to be complemented by a Code of Pastoral Practice for use by priests in marriage preparation, together with Guidelines to assist the ‘competent ecclesiastical authority’ (a panel/advisory group comprising the PEVs and/or those appointed by them) in its deliberations over cases referred to it.
(1) The Church of England and the Church in Wales are part of Western Christendom, the larger part of which understands marriage between Christians to be a sacramental bond.
(2) According to Canon B30, the teaching of our Lord as affirmed by the Church of England is expressed in the Form of Solemnization of Matrimony contained in The Book of Common Prayer, while in the Church in Wales the teaching is expressed in The Book of Common Prayer for use in the Church in Wales 1984.
(3) The Church of England is by law established, and the Church in Wales remains in effect established for the purpose of marriage, and some of the necessary implications of these provinces’ understanding of marriage are also found in the present civil law of England and Wales.
WE HEREBY DECLARE AND AFFIRM HOLY MATRIMONY TO BE:
1. The voluntary union for life of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.
2. An ‘honourable estate’, creating a status, while also being a covenant and arising from a contract.
3. A union entered into by mutual and free consent, without reservation or condition, the promises made being completely independent of each other.
4. A calling from God for many, but not all, the calling to the single state for others being equally honourable.
5. A gift of God in creation, instituted ‘in the time of man’s innocency’ and in the guardianship of which the Church has a share.
6. A sign to us of the ‘mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church’.
7. For the purposes of: the procreation and nurture of children (save where age or condition preclude it); the hallowing and right direction of natural instincts and affections; and the mutual society, help and comfort which the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.
8. A union in which the parties marry each other, each being a minister of God’s grace to the other.
9. Both private (a commitment between the parties) and public (within the community).
AS A CONSEQUENCE, WE RECOGNIZE THAT:
(a) Certain unions purporting to be marriages have never been marriages at all, but are so-called ‘void marriages’ (non-marriages from the beginning). Such unions occur when:
(i) the parties lack capacity (that is: the parties are within the prohibited degrees; either is under the age of 16; either is already married; or the parties are not respectively male and female); or
(ii) both parties knowingly and willfully intermarry in the face of certain other defective matters relating to the marriage ceremony required by civil law.
(b) Certain unions purporting to be marriages can be declared to be no longer marriages (termed ‘voidable marriages’). Such unions may be declared a nullity when:
(i) either is impotent (save where this is known to both);
(ii) either did not consent through duress, mistake as to identity of the other party or misapprehension as to the nature of the ceremony, unsoundness of mind or through the effect of drink or drugs;
(iii) either party was suffering from a mental disorder despite valid consent given at the time;
(iv) either, unknown to the other, was suffering from venereal disease in a communicable form;
(v) the wife, unknown to the husband, at the time of the marriage was pregnant by another.
In these cases, whether a decree absolute of nullity or of divorce has been obtained, competent ecclesiastical authority may permit either of the parties to the union, although the other of them is still living, to be married in church.
(c) Certain unions purporting to be marriages, while incapable of being annulled at civil law, may nonetheless be treated by competent ecclesiastical authority as being no longer marriages. Unions in this category may occur when:
(i) the marriage has been contracted for a reason other than those for which marriage exists (as set out in clause 7 of the declaration and affirmation made above);
(ii) evidence of behaviour before, at or after the marriage, demonstrates that at the time of the marriage either of the parties did not accept the marriage to be an exclusive and indissoluble union;
(iii) either party had an undisclosed intention not to have children;
(iv) the existence of a pre-nuptial contract between the parties, providing for division of property upon civil divorce, indicates that the union was intended to be conditional only;
(v) both parties to the union were not baptized, but one party subsequently receives the Christian Faith and is baptized, and the other party, without cause being given by the baptized party, then departs.
In these cases, competent ecclesiastical authority may permit either of the parties (and in the case of category (v) the baptized party) to be married in church although the other of them is still living.