A friend’s request for some background after reading a clumsily written attempt to muster a revisionist Latin Christian tradition on marriage reminded me of this book:
And led me to suggest the following:
Remember a few basic things when you talk to people who may not know what marriage really means but nonetheless enter disputes about the Catholic tradition concerning marriage.
Indissolubility is a property of a sacramental marriage, that is, of an actual marriage of two baptized persons. Indissolubility does not apply to natural marriages that do not have this character, though such marriages are permanent by their very nature. A “temporary marriage” is nonsense; but many things that are intrinsically permanent in character may possibly be dissolved by extrinsic forces.
For a marriage to be sacramental, both persons must be baptized; doubt about the baptism of either would also leave doubt about the indissolubility of the bond, though not of the permanent nature of marriage.
For a marriage to be sacramental, it must also actually be a marriage; doubt about the fact of the marriage would also leave doubt about the indissolubility of the bond (what doesn’t exist can’t be indissoluble), though not about the indissolubility of sacramental marriage as such.
Refusal of consent to the marriage, including rejection of any of the goods of marriage (so that I may be consenting to some sort of bond, but not to marriage), or lack of freedom to consent to marriage are, among others, grounds for concluding the nullity of the marriage–that is, they deny that there was any marriage, not that marriage is indissoluble.
The goods of marriage include fecundity and permanent sexual fidelity and exclusivity. Determining whether any of these has been rejected, or consent withheld or coerced, or consent at first withheld or coerced and later given freely, requires careful inquiry into complicated personal circumstances. Doing this may well be incredibly messy, and people may well express the terms of such an inquiry very badly indeed; this can lead to very badly worded rules and guidelines that need later correction or that require thorough familiarity with their immediate context.
Marriage, being a public act with civil consequences, has always had legal and juridical implications as well as ecclesial ones. Divorce, especially, is a civil act that is generally not an ecclesial act at all, especially in the West. (One reason for differences in the East is that the Caesaropapist tendency leads to a need to adapt ecclesial law to civil law, rather than use Church teaching as a foundation for the reform of unjust civil laws.) Ecclesial law, and even teaching, is often spoken toward and assumes the language of civil law as it is given; often we must read it against the customary, common, or statutory law of the place where the matter was discussed.