Divorce and remarriage according to the Shepherd of Hermas

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Divorce and remarriage according to the Shepherd of Hermas

Postby Geoffrey » Fri Dec 09, 2016 12:59 pm

St. Hermas (Romans 16:14) of the Seventy (Luke 10:1, 17) wrote The Shepherd of Hermas in approximately A. D. 85. It recounts the words and visions given to him via the Angel of Repentance (the titular shepherd of Hermas), structured in five Visions, twelve Mandates, and ten Similitudes. I am convinced that the only thing that kept The Shepherd of Hermas from being part of the New Testament is that its text has not been well preserved. In other words, the Church Fathers, in their caution and care, did not appoint The Shepherd of Hermas to be read as scripture during the liturgy because they had some doubts as to whether the surviving manuscripts of the book were accurate enough reproductions of the autograph.

(But even assuming the contemporary conceit--that all ancient Christian documents were written by communities of anonymous Christians--the point of this thread still stands.)

In the beginning of the Fourth Mandate is this exchange between St. Hermas and the Angel of Repentance:

St. Hermas: "Lord, if a man has a wife who believes in the Lord, and if he finds her in adultery, does the man sin if he continues to live with her?"

Angel of Repentance: "As long as he remains ignorant of her sin, the husband commits no transgression in living with her. But if the husband knows that his wife has gone astray, and if the woman does not repent, but persists in her fornication, and yet the husband continues to live with her, he also is guilty of her crime, and an accomplice in her adultery."

St. Hermas: "What then, lord, is the husband to do, if his wife continues in her vicious practices?"

Angel of Repentance: "The husband should put her away, and remain by himself. But if he puts his wife away and marries another, he also commits adultery."

St. Hermas: "What if the woman put away should repent, and wishes to return to her husband? Shall she not be taken back by her husband?"

Angel of Repentance: "Assuredly. If the husband does not take her back, he sins, and brings a great sin upon himself. He must take back the sinner who has repented. But not repeatedly, for there is but one repentance to the servants of God. Because the put away wife may repent, the husband ought not to marry another. In this matter man and woman are to be treated exactly in the same way.

I believe that the teaching contained in that passage accurately encapsulates the teaching of the New Testament.

God forbids divorce (Matt. 5:32). If a man discovers that his wife is an unrepentant adulteress, he is required to put her away. Why? Because if he remains with her, he is basically saying, "I'm kind of all right with adultery."

So is this hypothetical man who has put away his adulterous wife now single? Can he see other women now? No and no. He is still married. He must leave room for his wife's repentance. If his wife repents, he must take her back.

What if the husband does not forgive her and take her back? Then he would be guilty of serious sin.

What if the husband gets a girlfriend, or (worse) marries someone else? Then he himself would be guilty of adultery. He never ceases to be married to the wife of his youth! Simply because she betrays her marriage vows, that is no excuse whatsoever for the man to betray his.

Please note! This repentance must be serious. No "sin, repent, sin, repent, sin, repent, sin, repent, sin, repent, etc." allowed. Any wife who did that would not be genuinely repenting but only playing wicked games.

Everything works the same if it is the man who is the adulterer and the wife the one who puts him away.

This is the teaching given St. Hermas by an angel from Heaven. It is the teaching of the Apostles. It is the teaching of Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity.

The free-for-all of divorce of contemporary Christendom is a blasphemy that cries out to Heaven. It is a vile and unnatural affront to God Himself. It is a cry of "Crucify Him!" It is a hardening of the heart, turning it from flesh to stone, towards the wife of one's youth. It is a callous disregard of one's children. Then, to add sin unto sin, everything is made worse with remarriage. Children rightly regard step-parents as invaders and interlopers. They have no business breaking into a child's home and causing chaos. It is bad enough for a husband and a wife to betray their children by not striving to be icons of Christ and the Church, to strike at the very heart of the warmth and comfort of the home that is the due of children. But to bring in a stranger to "replace" their mother or father? To start acting like a contemptible teenager, going on dates, "falling in love", and all that rot? What a blow to children, already reeling from the destruction of their home, to see their parent(s) acting like irresponsible buffoons instead of prayerfully striving to be father and mother to them.

In my 46 years of life, I have seen nothing as destructive to wholesome living as divorce and remarriage. Shame, shame on us for blithely accepting it and pretending to be monogamous, when divorce and remarriage is serial polygamy (worse than polygamy, even).
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Re: Divorce and remarriage according to the Shepherd of Herm

Postby Paidion » Fri Dec 09, 2016 2:52 pm

What do you make of this passage, Geoffrey?

I Corinthians 7:27
Are you bound to a wife?
Being bound to a wife sounds like being married to me.

Do not seek to be loosed.
What can this mean? Is it not saying that if you are married, do not seek a divorce?

Are you loosed from a wife? Do not seek a wife.
Have you been divorced? Don't seek a wife.

1 Corinthians 7:28
But if you do marry, you have not sinned,
But even if you do marry again, you have not sinned.

Man judges a person by his past deeds, and administers penalties for his wrongdoing. God judges a person by his present character, and disciplines him that he may become righteous.

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Re: Divorce and remarriage according to the Shepherd of Herm

Postby Geoffrey » Sat Dec 10, 2016 6:44 am

Thank you for your question, Paidion.

Now concerning virgins: I have no commandment from the Lord; yet I give judgment as one whom the Lord in His mercy has made trustworthy. I suppose therefore that this is good because of the present distress—that it is good for a man to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be loosed. Are you loosed from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But even if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. Nevertheless such will have trouble in the flesh, but I would spare you.

I understand St. Paul to be saying that he thinks it best ("because of the present distress") for people to be content in their present state, but he hastens to add that it would only be unwise (and not a sin) for people to not follow his advice. Are you married? Then do not pine for your spouse to drop dead. Are you not married? Then do not seek to be married. Is your spouse dead? Then do not seek to remarry.

In any case, I do not think St. Paul would contradict either himself or (even more so) Jesus Christ on remarriage:

“To the married I give charge, not I but the Lord, that the wife should not separate from her husband, but if she does, let her remain single or else be reconciled to her husband.” (1 Cor 7:10-11)

"Whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery." (Matthew 5:32)

I think this passage throws a lot of light on I Corinthians 7:27-28:

“Thus a married woman is bound by law to her husband as long as he lives; but if her husband dies she is discharged from the law concerning the husband. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies she is free from that law, and if she remarries another she is not an adulteress.” (Rom 7:2-3)

In summary: I believe that St. Paul consistently taught that remarriage while one's spouse is still alive is outright forbidden by the Lord. Remarriage following the death of one's spouse is allowed, but not recommended.
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