The upcoming Synod of Bishops is stirring up quite a controversy over the possibility of changing the discipline on how the Church integrates into its sacramental life those who have been divorced and remarried. While the New Testament is pretty clear on the prohibition of divorce, history has some lessons to teach us on the matter of how the Church has dealt with the matter throughout its history. There has been a long tradition supporting the indissolubility of Christian marriages but it is not an unbroken tradition. I mentioned in the earlier post that while Mark and Luke present the teaching of Jesus as an absolute prohibition of divorce and remarriage—saying that those who remarry are guilty of adultery—Matthew gives an exception to the prohibition, namely “unchastity”—presumably on the part of the wife. This has usually been interpreted as the wife not coming to the marriage as a virgin. This is particularly interesting as it is the reason that Joseph has for his original plans to divorce Mary until the Angel comes and assures him that Mary has conceived by the power of God (Matt 1:20).
Paul takes a different approach than the Synoptic Gospels—and it is interesting because Paul’s letters are written before the Gospels and thus reflect an older practice in the Church. Paul does not allow for the marriage of two Christians to be dissolved, but does permit it when one of the partners is not a Christian and attempts to hinder the Christian partner in the practice of his or her faith (I Corinthians 7:12-15). Jesus’ teaching, recorded in the Synoptics, declares all marriages to be indissoluble; Paul restricts this to Christian marriages. It is Paul’s teaching, not Jesus’, that has shaped the practice of the Church through the centuries where the Church has willingly dissolved marriages where one or both of the partners have not been baptized and where, therefore, the marriage has not been “sacramental.” The Church does not annul these marriages but dissolves them, that is the Church recognizes that the first marriage did exist as a valid marriage but declares that since it was not a sacrament (one or both partners not being baptized and thus no sacrament, even for the baptized partner) it can be dissolved regardless of the teaching of Jesus to the contrary.
I also pointed out a statement by Pope Gregory II in the eighth century that somewhat astoundingly permits divorce in the case of a wife who can no longer, for reasons of health, have sexual relations with her husband. This statement is remarkable as it is the only papal statement I can find that permits divorce and remarriage. Finally, I mentioned in the previous post the marriage/divorce/annulment of Lothair II of Lotharingia and his wife, Teutberga which marks a significant turning point in the Catholic approach to the dissolution of supposedly indissoluble marriages. I want to look more closely at this case.
The first point, just to answer the obvious, is where in God’s Name is Lotharingia? Lotharingia designates a medieval kingdom extending from Frisia on the North Sea in modern day Holland south through Burgundy, Provence, Lombardy and even part of Tuscany. It spanned most of Holland, parts of Belgium, France, Switzerland and Italy and would include such modern day cities as Utrecht, Aachen (the capital), Liege, Cologne, Verdun, Strasbourg, Lyon, Marseilles, Geneva, Milan, Florence, and Siena. It was created upon the death of Louis the Pious, son of Charlemagne, when his three sons divided the empire with Louis’ son Charles the Bald being given most of what is today France, his son Louis being given most of what is today Germany, and his son Lothair being given this middle kingdom between the two brothers. The name Lotharingia survives in “Lorraine,” that province which today belongs to France but which has been a source of fighting between France and Germany for over a century and which is famous for its quiche (which real men don’t eat).
In any event, Lothair I, son of Louis the Pious, had several sons and further divided his kingdom, leaving the Italian lands to his son, Louis, the French/German lands to his son Lothair II, and Provence (the southernmost province of what is today France) to his son Charles. Lothair II thus governed what is today the Netherlands, much of Belgium, and North west and central France. Lothair II had a long-time lady friend, Waldrada, (think Camilla Parker-Bowles) who came from an aristocratic but not noble family. His father, Lothair I, required that he marry Teutberga (think Princess Diana) daughter of Boso who is variously described as the Count of Arles, Count of Turin, and Count of Valois. Boso, for his part, wanted his daughter to marry into the Imperial Family and Lothair I saw the advantages of an alliance with this powerful noble from the south-eastern part of his realm. There were problems, however, with this marriage. Lothair loved Waldrada, not Teutberga (I don’t know; can you imagine screaming either name in the fit of carnal passion?); moreover Teutberga proved to be incapable of bearing children, leaving Lothair II without an heir. Waldrada, on the other hand, bore Lothair four children, one of whom was a son; but an illegitimate son. Damn. Born on the wrong side of the blanket, Hugh (the son of Lothair and Waldrada), could not inherit. But if Lothair could marry Waldrada, then Hugh would be legitimized, and could inherit. How to do it in an age before speeding paparazzi in mad pursuit behind one’s chariot? First Lothair accused Teutberga of unchastity—remember Matthew’s one out of a marriage? Lothair claimed that she had been involved in an incestuous relationship with her brother, Hucbert (where do they get these names? Were there no Baby Books to choose from?). Teutberga was outraged at the claim against her character and backed up by Hucbert (who had a powerful army at his disposal) insisted on a trial to clear her name.
Now, back then they didn’t do trials like we do. They wanted something more entertaining and so they did Trials by Ordeal. There were several ways to do this, but Teutberga submitted to “Trial by Ordeal of Water.” She had to put her hand into a bot of boiling water and retrieve a stone at the bottom of the pot. The hand was then bandaged. At the end of three days, if the hand had not festered but was healthy (or healing at least) the accused party was considered innocent. Teutberga passed the test and Lothair had to take her back as his wife. Notice—there is not an appeal here to ecclesiastical authority, just a trial by ordeal to establish or clear guilt and, if established, end the marriage. It was only when his first plan failed, that Lothair turned to the local clergy and asked permission to set aside Teutberg and marry Waldrada on the grounds of her alleged (but disproved) unchastity. The clergy acquiesced. A synod of bishops met two years later and confirmed the decision of the clergy. But Teutberga fled to the court of her husband’s estranged uncle, Charles the Bald, and from there appealed to the Pope. The Pope, Nicholas I, overruled the Synod and declared the marriage of Lothair and Teutberga valid. Lothair had to take back his wife. This appeal to the Pope is one of the earliest appeals for the Pope to get involved in terminating a marriage.
Historians are not sure what happened next to cause Teutberga to change her mind, but she now wanted the marriage to be annulled. Lothair went to Rome to speak personally to the Pope and the Pope—now Adrian II, agreed to terminate the marriage. Unfortunately for Lothair, however, he died on the way home and never did get to marry Waldrada. And so Hugh remained illegitimate and since he was illegitimate and could not legally inherit, Lothair’s kingdom should have gone to his brother Louis. Louis, however, was busy with wars in Italy and the inheritance was stolen by his uncles, Charles the Bald and Louis the German, Lotharingia thus disappearing from the map. It was a rough and tumble world.
Lothair’s appeal to the clergy and Teutberga’s appeal to the papacy to resolve their marital dispute is one of the earliest turning points in how marital breakups were handled. I do not know of an earlier case—though there may be one or more—where the papacy became involved in this sort of dispute. Up to this point, the Germanic kings and powerful nobles just pretty much put their wives aside and took another when either lust or politics led them to a more advantageous second marriage. Pope Stephen III supposedly warned Charlemagne not to put aside his first wife, Himmiltrude, but Charlemagne did precisely that to marry Gerberga (sometimes called Desiderata for reasons we don’t have to go into here). There is some dispute whether Himmiltrude was actually Charlemange’s wife or a concubine, but the letter of Stephen refers to her as a wife. And when Charlemagne put aside Gerberga to marry Hildegard of Vinzgouw there was not an appeal to Rome to validate the divorce. Two generations later, however, it was different when Pope Nicholas got involved in the dispute between Lothair and Teutberga, but it is important to note that Nicholas only did so at Teutberga’s appeal and not at his own initiative. And it is interesting to see that Nicholas’ successor, Adrian, was willing to annul what Nicholas had not. Adrian’s decision was more a matter of political convenience than of worthiness of cause. Nicholas’ refusal to annul the marriage, for that matter, may have been to please Charles the Bald who did not want to see his nephew free to marry and have an heir because he, Charles, planned on stealing the kingdom when and if Lothair should predecease him. And he did steal it, of course.
Just as a historical note, Lothair’s grandson by Waldrada was Hugh of Italy whose second wife was Marozia—the notorious mistress of one pope, mother and grandmother of two others, tying Lothair into that whole mess of the papal pornacracy. You might want to check out the entries for Jan 15 and June 6 2015 by clicking Marozia’s name on the sidebar of the blog for more details on that sleazy affair.
While Lothair and Teutberga’s marriage ended up being reviewed in Rome, this was because they were royals and there was much at stake politically. People further down the social scale did not bother with such niceties when switching bedmates. Or to put it more accurately, Popes (and even bishops) did not bother involving themselves with people further down the social scale when they wanted to leave one marriage for another. Arrangements tended to be much more informal among the peasantry. Germanic Law—which governed most of Europe, even down into Italy—at the time was well used to marriages being abandoned in favor of new ones and it would be centuries before a process of annulments evolved for the ordinary person in the pew. And it would only be in the mid 20th century that annulments became somewhat common. But then—and mostly because of a combination of the emergence of a Middle Class in the 16th century and of the influence of the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic reforms coming from the Council of Trent—that the ideals of the Christian family solidified.
Now we are in a difficult situation as what might be called the post-Christian culture begins to predominate in the Western world and that ideal of the Christian family is replaced by the social complexities caricatured in the television series Modern Family that we are faced with having to find pastoral solutions for what is today becoming the norm but which for centuries would have been unimaginable aberrations in family life. What do we do? Do we put our head in the sand and pretend that the world has not changed? Do we shun and exclude those whose lives represent the post-Christian culture? Do we just abandon our tradition and go with the flow and hey, as long as everyone is happy God is cool? Do we accept the changed conditions and see it as a field for evangelization?
The answer obviously is that we accept the changed conditions and see it as a field for evangelization, but how do we do this? What does it mean to evangelize in a post-Christian culture? What can we change and what must be unchangeable. Various people on all sides have facile answers but the reality is not all that facile. How does Joe Parish Priest deal with Cam and Mitch when they bring Lily for her First Communion? How does he deal with Gloria and Jay when they bring Fulgencio Joseph Pritchett for baptism? And what advice does he give Phil and Claire about Haley who is sleeping with her boyfriend and Luke who is finding out about masturbation? The bishops have their work cut out for them at the synod. Thank God for Alex; there is at least one normal person in the family. Is this geek thing the new normal? Not sure I like that either.