Before I launch into the main subject for the day, let me make a brief clarification. The 1983 Code of Canon Law is also referred to as CIC/83. The CIC is for the Latin Codex Iuris Canonici, i.e. the Code of Canon Law. The 83 is the year of promulgation, i.e. 1983. So when you hear me mention CIC/83, remember I am referring to our present 1983 Code of Canon Law.
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The Code of Canon Law (CIC/83) uses the term proprietas, that is, property, in two different contexts: in the context of ecclesiastical goods (Cann. 706, 1° and 1284 § 2, 2°) and in the context of marriage.1 The difference, though, is that in the context of marriage, the proprietas has been qualified with the adjective essentiales (Cann. 1056 and 1125 § 3), that is, essential properties.
The CIC/83 explicitly mentions two essential properties of marriage. We cannot say that these two essential properties are exhaustive. There certainly may be other properties, but these two are indispensable. In simple terms, the essential properties are “qualities inherent in the institution of marriage itself”.
If these qualities are inherent in the institution of marriage itself, then it means that any attempt to separate them from the institution of marriage will lead to the creation of another institution other than marriage. They are part and parcel of the essence of marriage.
Can. 1056 states: “The essential properties of marriage are unity and indissolubility, which in Christian marriage obtain a special firmness by reason of the sacrament.” (Unity and indissolubility.)
Let us look at unity.
The essential property of unity (Cann. 1056 and 10993) means that a true canonical marriage can exist between one man and one woman. And these become husband and wife. Any other “form of marriage” apart from what has just been said violates the unity of marriage. To put it bluntly, the following cannot be recognized as marriages, as things stand in CIC/83: the union between a man and a man, and the union between a woman and a woman.
Based on the aforementioned, it is evident that polygamy in its various forms violate the unity of marriage. I will mention two types of polygamy here. One, polyandry – a situation in which a woman has two or more husbands at the same time. Two, polygyny – a situation in which a man has two or more wives at the same time.
In effect, it can be said that CIC/83 favours the opposite of polygamy, which is, monogamy. And monogamy is a marriage involving only two parties, a man and a woman. This is recognised as the divine will of the Creator Himself when the sacred writer said: “For this
1 Luigi Sabbarese, “Il matrimonio canonico nell’ordine della natura e della grazia”, terza edizione, 2010.
2 John P. Beal et al, “New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law”, 2000, p. 1249.
3 Can. 1099: “Error concerning the unity or indissolubility or sacramental dignity of marriage does not vitiate matrimonial consent provided that it does not determine the will.” -reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24).
Let us now turn our attention to indissolubility.
The essential property of indissolubility means that a validly constituted matrimonial bond cannot be dissolved. Marriage is a perpetual relationship. With this in mind, it is evident that a valid matrimonial bond fundamentally excludes all possibilities of dissolution through divorce.
Sabbarese (my professor in University of Urbaniana, Rome) mentions one canonical tradition which distinguishes between intrinsic and extrinsic indissolubility of marriage.
Intrinsic (or relative) indissolubility
Intrinsic indissolubility means that it is impossible for either one or both of the spouses to dissolve the bond of marriage. In other words, the husband alone, or the wife alone, or both of them together cannot dissolve the bond of marriage.
This applies also to any public human authority.
John P. Beal et al assert that, “All marriages, whether the spouses are baptized or not, are intrinsically indissoluble.”4 Only Divine Authority, that is, the ecclesiastical authority acting in his name, can dissolve the bond of marriage. On this basis it is also called relative indissolubility.
Extrinsic (or absolute) indissolubility
Extrinsic indissolubility, on the other hand, refers to the impossibility of the dissolution of the matrimonial bond by any human authority, including the ecclesiastical authority. Based on this it is also referred to as absolute indissolubility.
The Church does not recognise the power of civil authorities to dissolve marriages. Therefore, it becomes problematic when people who are married in Church go to courts to seek divorce without seeking annulment in ecclesiastical tribunals. This means, when the civil court grants divorce, the couple or one of them must approach the ecclesiastical tribunal for annulment, before he or she can marry again in the Catholic Church.
Power of the Church to Dissolve Marriages
The Church, on the other hand, claims to have the power to dissolve marriages under certain conditions. They are four. I will mention them without going into details. They can be discussed another time. 1. Non-sacramental marriages involving at least one unbaptized person, 2. Sacramental marriages that have not been consummated, 3. Pauline privilege (Cann. 1143-1147), and, 4. The Pope exercising his Petrine privilege (Cann. 1148-1149).
Let me re-emphasise that the indissolubility of marriage is based on the original plan of God as found in Gen. 2:24, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.”
The Hebrew word that is translated to mean “flesh” does not refer only to the physical flesh, but the totality of the human person. The indissolubility is about the union of thoughts, will and love.
4 John P. Beal et al, “New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law”, 2000, p. 1249.