Reflection on “The Dissolution of the Marriage Bond”

First and foremost, Fr. O’Donoghue’s article on “The Dissolution of the Marriage Bond” was a breath of fresh air at least for this student.  Recent articles in the coursework have seemed to focus less on marriage and more on how great ecumenism is.  While ecumenism has its place, this student does not believe that everything toted as “ecumenical” is indeed in line with the Church’s teachings on her role as the “only ark of salvation.”  Pivonka’s article, “Ecumenical or Mixed Marriages in the New Code of Canon Law”, especially had concerning statements, but since these statements refer to ecumenism and not marriage, any further reflection in this paper is ill-placed.

In contrast, Fr. Donoghue’s article focused directly on a topic pertinent to the Church while not veering outside Her clear teachings.  There were three main areas of his article that this student deems worthy of further reflection.  They are: Indissolubility, the Pauline Privilege, and the “Privilege of the Faith.” In all these areas, Fr. O’Donoghue’s article increased this student’s own knowledge especially since Fr. O’Donoghue explains the teachings of the Church in clear terms, almost in a scholastic fashion which is well suited for instruction.  For example, he clearly defines his terms and demonstrates how each code is a development of dogma, not a new concept the Church “evolved” to once she became more “enlightened” in the modern age.

Indissolubility of Marriage

Drawing from Canon 1141, Fr. O’Donoghue explains how the essential properties of marriage are intrinsically indissoluble, but “every marriage is indissoluble but not necessarily absolutely.”[1]  For this student, this distinction provides many insights, or perhaps better said, it provides knowledge of which this student was greatly deficient.  The marriages then that are absolutely indissoluble, and which no power on earth not even the Pope himself can dissolve, are those marriages both ratified and consummated.  Importantly, ratification is defined as being validly between two baptized persons.  If consummated, these marriages cannot be dissolved because such marriages are sacramental and the conjugal right has been exercised.  It is worth quoting the entirety of Canon 1141 here since this was the understanding this student had of all marriages prior to reading the subsequent Canons and Fr. O’Donoghue’s article.

“A marriage that is ratum et consummatum can be dissolved by no human power and by no cause, except death.” (Canon 1141)

Marriages that are ratified, but not consummated are sacramental (since consent makes marriage), but can be extrinsically dissolved by the Pope as is seen in Canon 1142.  It is important to remember that even if the two married persons have not consummated their marriage, they cannot of themselves dissolve it.  Canon 1142 directly addresses this case and, importantly only the Roman Pontiff is named as one who can dissolve the marriage.  Further, and perhaps this was the point that this student had been previously unknowledgeable about, merely natural marriages can be dissolved.  Of this, there are two possible reasons: the Pauline Privilege and the Privilege of the Faith.

The Pauline Privilege

As many likely know, St. Paul, in his First Letter to the Corinthians, spoke of what is known as the “Pauline Privilege.”  This privilege, in short, focuses on two non-baptized persons who are validly and naturally married, one of which converts to Christianity and is baptized.  This marriage can be dissolved under the Pauline Privilege if:

“A. A marriage contracted in the condition of unbelief.
B. The conversion of one of the spouses.
C. The departure of the spouse who does not want to be converted.
D. The intimate connection or interdependence between the departure and the conversion.
E. The Local Ordinary can for a grave reason allow the baptized party to marry a non-Catholic whether baptized or un-baptized.”[2]

It should be remembered, and is important for the subsequent section on Privilege of the Faith, that the marriage dissolved is a valid natural marriage, but is not a sacramental marriage.  Again, no human power can dissolve a sacramental marriage.  The Pauline Privilege is examined in Canons 1143-1150 and covers many possible scenarios including captivity and separation, and multiple wives.

Privilege of the Faith

Of the Canons, Canons 1142 and 1150 are most relevant to the issue of “Privilege of the Faith.” In Canon 1142, it is stated that a natural marriage can be dissolved by the Roman Pontiff.  In Canon 1150, it states “In a doubtful matter the privilege of faith possesses the favor of the law.” Fr. O’Donoghue, after examining a number of particular cases expressed that it has been clarified that the Pope has “power over the marriages of unbaptized persons… when there was a matter of it being dissolved in favour of the faith of a Catholic third party.”[3]  As noted previously in this reflection, such dissolution must come from the power of the Pope.

In such cases, there are conditions that must be met, like that there must be a lack of baptism by at least one party (meaning it is a natural marriage).  This must be of a “moral certainty” as well and have been the case throughout the marriage.  If the non-Catholic spouse were to convert and be baptized, and martial relations occurred after this point, then the marriage would be sacramental due to being ratified and consummated.  The marriage must also have failed prior to the conversion of the non-baptized person.  There must also be an “absence of public scandal and surprise”.[4]  This point is perhaps on that is most likely rejected by the culture today since such a condition asserts the principle that the “Common Good prevails over the Individual Good.”[5]  Our culture views the individual good as the highest good which is, of course, false and leads to the great turmoil of Modernity.  One final consideration that is especially note worthy is that there must be “Absence of blame from the Petioner.”[6]


All in all, Fr. O’Donoghue’s article offered a clear examination of a difficult topic.  His use of terms like “intrinsic” and “extrinsic” made the article much more digestible and clear.  It focused on what the Church teaches and did not veer into the realm of personal opinion like so many do today.  He explained, although briefly, what the Church teaches and not what he, Fr. O’Donoghue, believes she ought to teach.  Such an approach is refreshing and gives a level of assurance to readers, for if Fr. O’Donoghue errs, he most likely errs materially and not formally.  The difference between the two can be akin to the infinite chasm separating Heaven from Hell.  Through his approach, he well explained what he set out to, that of the “Dissolution of the Marriage Bond” and his work has greatly benefited at least this one student.


[1] Rev.Christopher O’Donoghue. “The Dissolution of the Marriage Bond.” p.414.

[2] Rev. O’Donoghue. “The Dissolution of the Marriage Bond.” p.422

[3] Rev. O’Donoghue. “The Dissolution of the Marriage Bond.” p.424

[4] Rev. O’Donoghue. “The Dissolution of the Marriage Bond.” p.429

[5] Rev. O’Donoghue. “The Dissolution of the Marriage Bond.” p.429

[6] Rev. O’Donoghue. “The Dissolution of the Marriage Bond.” p.429

Montana Legislative Update
Killing Justly: Right Intent
St. Thomas Aquinas – Book Review
There are currently no comments.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.