Matt. 5:31,32 (Part 6)

ORIGEN: Some of the laws [in the Old Testament] were written not as excellent, but as by way of accommodation to the weakness of those to whom the law was given; for something of this kind is indicated in the words, “Moses for your hardness of heart suffered you to put away your wives;” but that which is pre- eminent and superior to the law, which was written for their hardness of heart, is indicated in this, “But from the beginning it hath not been so.” But in the new covenant also there are some legal injunctions of the same order as, “Moses for your hardness of heart suffered you to put away your wives;” for example, because of our hardness of heart, it has been written on account of our weakness, “But because of fornications, let each man have his own wife and let each woman have her own husband;” and this, “Let the husband render to the wife her due, and likewise also the wife to the husband.” To these sayings it is accordingly subjoined, “But this I say by way of permission, not of commandment.” But this also, “A wife is bound for so long time as her husband lives, but if her husband be dead, she is free to be married to whom she will, only in the Lord,” was said by Paul in view of our hardness of heart and weakness, to those who do not wish to desire earnestly the greater gifts and become more blessed. But now contrary to what was written, some even of the rulers of the church have permitted a woman to marry, even when her husband was living, doing contrary to what was written, where it is said, “A wife is bound for so long time as her husband lives,” and, “So then if while her husband lives, she shall be joined to another man she shall be called an adulteress.” Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, 9.510.

ORIGEN: Our Savior says, not at all permitting the dissolution of marriages for any other sin than fornication alone, when detected in the wife, “Whoever shall put away his own wife, except for the cause of fornication, makes her an adulteress.” But it might be a subject for inquiry if on this account He hinders any one putting away a wife, unless she be caught in fornication, for any other reason, as for example for poisoning, or for the destruction during the absence of her husband from home of an infant born to them, or for any form of murder whatsoever. And further, if she were found despoiling and pillaging the house of her husband, though she was not guilty of fornication, one might ask if he would with reason cast away such an one, seeing that the Savior forbids any one to put away his own wife except for the cause of fornication.

In either case there appears to be something monstrous, whether it be really monstrous, I do not know; for to endure sins of such heinousness which seem to be worse than adultery or fornication, will appear to be irrational; but again on the other hand to act contrary to the design of the teaching of the Savior, every one would acknowledge to be impious. I wonder therefore why He did not say, “Let no one put away his own wife except for the cause of fornication,” but says, “Whoever shall put away his own wife, except for the cause of fornication, makes her an adulteress.” For confessedly he who puts away his wife when she is not a fornicator, makes her an adulteress, so far as it lies with him, for if, “when the husband is living she shall be called an adulteress if she be joined to another man;”106 and when by putting her away, he gives to her the excuse of a second marriage, very plainly in this way he makes her an adulteress.

But as to whether her being caught in the act of poisoning or committing murder, furnishes any defense of his dismissal of her, you can inquire yourselves; for the husband can also in other ways than by putting her away cause his own wife to commit adultery; as, for example, allowing her to do what she wishes beyond what is fitting, and stooping to friendship with what men she wishes, for often from the simplicity of husbands such false steps happen to wives; but whether there is a ground of defense or not for such husbands in the case of such false steps, you will inquire carefully, and deliver your opinion also in regard to the difficult questions raised by us on the passage. And even he who withholds himself from his wife makes her oftentimes to be an adulteress when he does not satisfy her desires, even though he does so under the appearance of greater gravity and self-control. And perhaps this man is more deserving of blame who, so far as it rests with him, makes her an adulteress when he does not satisfy her desires than he who, for other reason than fornication, has sent her away,—for poisoning or murder or any of the most grievous sins. But as a woman is an adulteress, even though she seem to be married to a man, while the former husband is still living, so also the man who seems to marry her who has been put away, does not so much marry her as commit adultery with her according to the declaration of our Savior.

Now after these things, having considered how many possible accidents may arise in marriages, which it was necessary for the man to endure and in this way suffer very great hardships, or if he did not endure, to transgress the word of Christ, the disciples say to him, taking refuge in celibacy as easier, and more expedient than marriage, though the latter appears to be expedient, “If the case of the man is so with his wife, it is not expedient to marry.” And to this the Savior said, teaching us that absolute chastity is a gift given by God, and not merely the fruit of training, but given by God with prayer, “All men cannot receive the saying, but they to whom it is given.” Then seeing that some make a sophistical attack on the saying, “To whom it is given,” as if those who wished to remain pure in celibacy, but were mastered by their desires, had an excuse, we must say that, if we believe the Scriptures, why at all do we lay hold of the saying, “But they to whom it is given,” but no longer attend to this, “Ask and it shall be given you,”109 and to that which is added to it, “For every one that asks receives”? For if they “to whom it is given” can receive this saying about absolute purity, let him who wills ask, obeying and believing Him who said, “Ask and it will be given to you,” and not doubting about the saying, “Every one that asks receives.” But when you will inquire who it is that asks, for no one of those who do not receive has asked, even though he seems to have done so, since it is not lawful to say that the saying, “Every one that asks receives,” is a lie. Who then is he that asks, but he who has obeyed Jesus when He says, “If you stand praying, believe that you receive, and you will receive?” But he that asks must do everything in his power that he may pray “with the spirit” and pray also “with the understanding,” and pray “without ceasing,” keeping in mind also the saying, “And He spoke a parable to them to the end that they ought always to pray, and not to faint, saying, There was in a city a judge,” etc. And it is useful to know what it is to ask, and what it is to receive, and what is meant by “Every one that asks, receives,” and by “I say to you though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity, he will arise and give him as many as he needs.” It is therefore added, “And I say to you, 'Ask, and it shall be given you,'” and so on. Further, let the saying, “All men cannot receive the saying but they to whom it is given,” be a stimulus to us to ask worthily of receiving; and this, “What son is there of you who shall ask his father for a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent,” etc. God therefore will give the good gift, perfect purity in celibacy and chastity, to those who ask Him with the whole soul, and with faith, and in prayers without ceasing. Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, 9.511-512.

CYPRIAN: Hold fast, O virgins! Hold fast what you have begun to be; hold fast what you shall be. A great reward awaits you, a great recompense of virtue, the immense advantage of chastity. Do you wish to know what problems the virtue of self-restraint avoids, what good it possesses? “I will multiply,” says God to the woman, “your sorrows and your groanings; and in sorrow you shall bring forth children; and your desire shall be to your husband, and he shall rule over you.” You are free from this sentence. You do not fear the sorrows and the groans of women. You have no fear of child-bearing; nor is your husband lord over you; but your Lord and Head is Christ, after the likeness and in the place of the man; with that of men your lot and your condition is equal. It is the word of the Lord which says, “The children of this world beget and are begotten; but they who are counted worthy of that world, and of the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage: neither shall they die any more: for they are equal to the angels of God, being the children of the resurrection.” That which we shall be, you have already begun to be. You already possess in this world the glory of the resurrection. You pass through the world without the disease of the world; in that you continue chaste and virgins, you are equal to the angels of God. Only let your virginity remain and endure substantial and uninjured; and as it began bravely, let it persevere continuously, and not seek the ornaments of necklaces nor garments, but of conduct. Let it look towards God and heaven, and not lower to the lust of the flesh and of the world, the eyes uplifted to things above, or set them upon earthly things.

The first decree commanded to increase and to multiply; the second enjoined continency. While the world is still rough and void, we are propagated by the fruitful begetting of numbers, and we increase to the enlargement of the human race. Now, when the world is filled and the earth supplied, they who can receive continency, living after the manner of eunuchs, are made eunuchs unto the kingdom. Nor does the Lord command this, but He exhorts it; nor does He impose the yoke of necessity, since the free choice of the will is left. . . . As we have borne the image of him who is earthy, let us also bear the image of Him who is heavenly.” Virginity bears this image, integrity bears it, holiness bears it, and truth. Disciplines which are mindful of God bear it, retaining righteousness with religion, stedfast in faith, humble in fear, brave to all suffering, meek to sustain wrong, easy to show mercy, of one mind and one heart in fraternal peace. The Treatises of Cyprian, 5.436.

CYPRIAN: Marriage is not to be contracted with Gentiles. In Tobias: “Take a wife from the seed of your parents, and do not take a strange woman who is not of the tribe of your parents.” Also in Genesis, Abraham sends his servant to take from his seed Rebecca, for his son Isaac. Also in Ezra, it was not sufficient for God when the Jews were laid waste, unless they forsook their foreign wives, with the children also whom they had begotten of them. Also in the first Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians: “The woman is bound so long as her husband lives; but if he dies, she is freed to marry whom she will, only in the Lord. But she will be happier if she abide thus.” And again: “Don't you know that your bodies are the members of Christ? Shall I take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? Far be it from me. Or don't you know that he who is joined together with an harlot is one body? For two shall be in one flesh. But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit.” Also in the second to the Corinthians: “Do not be joined together with unbelievers. For what participation is there between righteousness and unrighteousness? Or what communication does light have with darkness?” Also concerning Solomon in the third book of Kings: “And foreign wives turned away his heart after their gods.”
The Treatises of Cyprian, 5.550-551.

CYPRIAN: A wife must not depart from her husband; or if she should depart, she must remain unmarried. In the first Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians: “But to them that are married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not be separated from her husband; but if she should depart, that she remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband: and that the husband should not put away his wife.”
The Treatises of Cyprian, 5.553.

NOVATIAN: The precepts of chastity, brethren, are ancient. For what reason do I say ancient? Because they were ordained at the same time as men themselves. For both her own husband belongs to the woman, for the reason that besides him she may know no other; and the woman is given to the man for the purpose that, when that which had been his own had been yielded to him, he should seek for nothing belonging to another. And in such manner it is said, “Two shall be in one flesh,” that what had been made one should return together, that a separation without return should not afford any occasion to a stranger. Consequently the apostle declares that the man is the head of the woman, that he might commend chastity in the conjunction of the two. For as the head cannot be suited to the limbs of another, so also one’s limbs cannot be suited to the head of another: for one’s head matches one’s limbs, and one’s limbs one’s head; and both of them are associated by a natural link in mutual concord, lest, by any discord arising from the separation of the members, the compact of the divine covenant should be broken. Yet he adds, and says: “Because he who loves his wife, loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh; but nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ the Church.” From this passage there is great authority for charity with chastity, if wives are to be loved by their husbands even as Christ loved the Church and wives ought so to love their husbands also as the Church loves Christ.

Christ gave this judgment when, being inquired of, He said that a wife must not be put away, except for the cause of fornication; such honor did He put upon chastity. Hence arose the decree: “Do not allow an adulteresses to live.”135 Hence the apostle says: “This is the will of God, that you abstain from fornication.” Hence also he says the same thing: “That the members of Christ must not be joined with the members of an harlot.” Hence the man is delivered over unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, who, treading under foot the law of chastity, practices the vices of the flesh. Hence with reason adulterers do not attain the kingdom of heaven. Hence it is that every sin is without the body, but that the adulterer alone sins against his own body. Hence other authoritative utterances of the instructor, all of which it is not necessary at this time to collect, especially among you, who for the most part know and do them; and you cannot find cause for complaint concerning these things, even though they are not described. For the adulterer has no excuse, nor could he, because he might take a wife. . . .

Laws are prescribed to married women, who are so bound that they cannot as a consequence be separated. Treatises Attributed to Cyprian, 5.589

LACTANTIUS: Lest anyone think that he can circumscribe the divine precepts, there are added those that take away all calumny and occasion of fraud; he is an adulterer who marries a divorced spouse, and he who dismisses his wife commits adultery for God is unwilling to dissociate the body. The Divine Institutes.

LACTANTIUS: Therefore let it be observed in all the duties of life, let it be observed in marriage. For it is not sufficient if you abstain from another’s bed, or from the brothel. Let him who has a wife seek nothing further, but, content with her alone, let him guard the mysteries of the marriage-bed chaste and undefiled. For he is equally an adulterer in the sight of God and impure, who, having thrown off the yoke, behaves promiscuously in strange pleasure either with a free woman or a slave. But as a woman is bound by the bonds of chastity not to desire any other man, so let the husband be bound by the same law, since God has joined together the husband and the wife in the union of one body. On this account He has commanded that the wife shall not be put away unless convicted of adultery, and that the bond of the conjugal compact shall never be dissolved, unless unfaithfulness have broken it. The Epitome of the Divine Institutes, 7.250-251.

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