Divorce, says Jesus, . . .
In the gospel reading last Sunday, Mark 10: 2-16, Jesus says about marriage, “Let no one separate what God has joined.” I got divorced shortly before I entered the School of Theology. The reading reminded me of my experiences there.
At the SOT I studied scripture under Fr. Ivan Havener, perhaps the most helpful course I had there. Ivan was fully aware that the official Church often teaches nonsense. One day in class he referred disparagingly to bishops in denial of facts.
Ivan’s analysis of Jesus' sayings put into stark relief the distinction between the man Jesus and the myth of Christ. His book, Q: The Sayings of Jesus, informed my God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky. Scripture scholars use a panoply of tools to distinguish authentic sayings of Jesus from inauthentic sayings, those put into his mouth by gospel writers but not said by the man himself. Inauthentic sayings formed after Jesus’ death as a natural process of myth-making ensued, something like the process that created the myth of JFK, but of infinitely greater depth and consequence.
I decided that my final paper for Ivan’s class would be on divorce. Researching Jesus’ authentic sayings, I would show that Jesus did not really condemn divorce; I would show that Church law conflicts with the man Jesus’ statements. But after researching the subject, I had to concede that the historical Jesus must have condemned divorce because it is multiply-attested—in Matthew (5:32 and 19:9), Mark (10:11-12), Luke (16:18), and First Corinthians (7:10-11). It is highly unlikely that all accounts of Jesus speaking out against divorce got it wrong. I was wrong in my expectation.
However, from information supplied by scripture scholars I figured out that the reason for his attitude was divorce practice in his society. Only men could initiate divorce—women were their property—and men could divorce for the flimsiest reasons such as burning food. Divorced women must have lived in exceedingly grim circumstances. I concluded, therefore, that Jesus of Nazareth opposed divorce out of compassion for women. Pope Francis’ embrace of divorced people is right in line with Jesus’ attitude.
While I was studying at the SOT, Ivan died, stunning us all. No one on the faculty was more respected, not even Godfrey Diekmann, one of the periti or experts at Vatican II. I had planned on taking another course from Ivan but was glad of one thing. We grad students had to demonstrate understanding of a language other than English. I had used a German source in my paper for Ivan and fortunately got a signed statement before he died, declaring that I fulfilled the language requirement.
After graduating from the School of Theology I got the paper published in Daughters of Sarah, a Christian feminist magazine.