Errare humanum est

The Latin phrase "Errare humanum est, sed in errare perseverare diabolicum" can be translated in English as "to err is human, but to persist in error is diabolical." People make mistakes. Absolutely everybody makes mistakes. An error, in its essence, is the result of a delusive or inaccurate thinking, which, in its turn, leads to a particular choice, which, in its turn, leads to an undesired actual result. This process concerns absolutely every living being, without exception. Errors can be made either conscious so that one intentionally choose an already known principle of thinking that leads to another error. There may also be unconscious errors, stemming from the lack of expertise or knowledge of some aspect. But the main issue is not the mistakes, but their resolution, the correction of them. Do we err, correct ourselves and turn over a new leaf? Or do we stay in our mistakes without any desire to change?

A man makes mistakes not only during a certain period of time after a particular point, but throughout the whole life from cradle to grave. And that is the original God’s plan, as Adam once walked with God, receiving all the necessary "instructions" on what to do and where to go. So, Adam did not need to be self-infallible. Actually, the fall occurred exactly because of the "dissolution of the contract", when Adam stopped listening to God, thereby lost a continuous flow of information for the next steps and made his own choice at his own discretion, which is very limited for a human being. Therefore, errors or wrong choices are entirely natural. What is not normal is to continual stay in errors. Restoration, reversion to the right way and further positive development are possible only through the renewal of the relationship with God and setting better goals according to His will. Correspondingly, the dissolution of a contract or agreement happens in an opposite way, that is through an overt rejection of it all. Therefore, the possibility of a marriage break-up is reduced to the possibility of a conscious choice of a human being, which is, of course, possible. And vice versa, the restoration of a marriage as a bilateral agreement is possible only with a person who agrees to fulfill it. And this may not necessarily be the same person as the previous time.

What kind of mistakes are we talking about?

"And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife" (1 Cor 7:10-11).

Apostle Paul condemns unreasonable, ill-considered divorces. But even if such has happened, Paul urges to seek for the solution of the problem and reconciliation to continue the marriage. For that he orders the wife to remain unmarried during the time when trying to reconcile, because if the wife marries another person, the restoration of the marriage will be impossible. However, the restoration is not always possible. One of the partners may try to reconcile, but that does not mean that the other cannot refuse to continue the relationship. Therefore, when the efforts to reconcile have failed and the divorce is inevitable, then there is no sense to remain unmarried (1 Cor. 7:8-9). The essence of Paul's message is that if the couple has decided to stop any further relationship, there should be a really significant reason, and all the consequences should be clear to both partners. It should be noted that although the sad fact of a divorce directly affecting all the acquired family environment (children, relatives, common friends, etc.), it is still only about the couple itself. Negative impact is made by the death of one partner or a serious illness or a forced separation caused by the war or captivity.

A particular confusion is raised by the phrase "if she depart, let her remain unmarried." There is a widespread opinion, that a divorced woman should remain unmarried until her death. Such an interpretation has major drawbacks. The first problem is the direct promotion of gender inequality, which is sexism, because Paul says nothing about a husband, though the Scripture teaches about the equality of a man and a woman. Then, with the forbiddance of a re-marriage for any divorcee Paul would contradict himself just with the next sentence, having encouraged everybody who cannot exercise self-control, to marry. This would put Paul in a very awkward position as an Apostle. Another reason why the ban of the re-marriage is wrong, is that such an order would mean a divorce to be a quasi-unforgivable sin which one should confess through the whole life. However, the Scripture tells that there are no such sins, except for the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. There is also no support for the necessity of a lifetime penance in some form for both of the partners. The last reason of such a statement to be false is the direct Church approval and acceptance of the pre-Christian marriages as valid ones. As a matter of fact, if a re-marriage were really forbidden, then it would mean that the Church did not consider the violation of promises having been made in the pre-Christian marriage, while recognising previous marriages in unlimited quantities among non-believers.

If to claim that a matrimonial oath is not a contract but a covenant, and at the same time consider the covenant to be unbreakable, then the divorce is unacceptable. In order to find out whether this statement is true, it is necessary to study the references of a divorce in the Old Testament. "Yet ye say, Wherefore? Because the LORD hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant." (Mal. 2:14) In this passage the original text tells about a legal agreement, and the whole passage rebukes that such an agreement has been broken. According to the Law of Moses, a divorce was not just a special case, but a reworked procedure with all the stages. As the Law included a certain process of a divorce and defined all further steps after that, an ancient Jewish marriage was not an unbreakable covenant, but just a contract. Therefore, it would be a priori impossible even to start speaking on the very possibility of a divorce within the Law of Moses, if to consider that a marriage is bound by some blood, unbreakable covenant. Consequently it is clear the Old Testament was well-informed about the divorce.

Coming back to the identification of a marriage with a covenant, the best description ever of the indissolubility of the God’s covenant has been provided by Professor Herman Hoeksema (1886-1965), a Dutch Reformed theologian, who, in the light of covenantalism, put an emphasis on the Covenant of Grace as an unbreakable continuum which never ends. For Hoeksema the covenant was eternal, unbreakable and inviolate. The argumentation of his position has been based on the God's love for His chosen which is unconditional, like Enoch and Noah, who walked with God, or Abraham who was a friend of God. Such a model of a covenant, according to Hoeksema, is not an unilateral or bilateral agreement, and contains no conditions, requirements or claims. The theological basis of Calvinism allows Hoeksema to believe that God has determined His chosen people to unilaterally make a covenant with them, as one of the points of the Calvinistic doctrine of a T.U.L.I.P. is "gratia irresistibilis" (Lat.) or "irresistible grace", which well in advance defines the destiny of a person as doomed to the only possible end in grace which cannot be overcome by anything. So, whatever a person does in his life, God predestined him in advance, and this serves the indissolubility and permanence of the covenant. However, as it is found, for the Old Testament the act of breaking up of the covenant was well-known. For that professor Hoeksema built his own interpretation of the word "break up" as "violation", arguing that the verb "break" is also used concerning the commandments. Therefore, "to break" commandments, in Hoeksema’s interpretation, means "to violate" or "to step out of the line". Since it is impossible to dissolve the commandments as they will continue to exist, one can only break them. Hereof stems the Hoeksema’s conclusion that a covenant, as well as the commandments, will exist henceforth and be unbreakable. But even if to put aside the strong influence of calvinism, which by itself raises many theological issues, Hoeksema’s followers should more fundamentally prove the interpretation of the word "break up" as "violation". The first point is that the interpretation of the word form of some term means and helps little, if taken out of context. Often this can even lead to serious logical mistakes, if to overlook the whole context. The same word "break up" also appears together with the word "vow" in the Book Of Numbers 30: 8, 12, 14 and the 16th verse. These passages are not about a "violation of the vow," but about a "total break-up" or "abrogation". The same word "to dissolve" is translated like "to break" in Isaiah 44:25: "He who breaks the signs of lies and makes fools magicians who turneth wise men backward, and maketh their knowledge foolish." If Hoeksema believed that only God "breaks the signs of lies", then this puts his interpretation in quite an interesting situation. Another group of words for "break-up" or "dissolution" or "termination", which is the same word in the original manuscripts, is connections which are established only once and no more. David writes in Psalm 85, verse 4, "Turn us, O God of our salvation, and cause thine anger toward us to cease." It clearly speaks about the way to the God’s salvation, and the corresponding anger must be stopped once and forever. Professor Hoeksema would, most likely, wish the same for himself. The word "suspend" or "break" also goes along with the word "covenant". That is, "There is a league between me and thee, as there was between my father and thy father: behold, I have sent thee silver and gold; go, break thy league with Baasha king of Israel, that he may depart from me." (2nd Chronicles 16:3). This passage clearly refers to the cancellation of the agreement and its abrogation, so it does not exist anymore. But if the word "to break" does not mean "to violate" in all these cases, then the professor Hoeksema yet determined the covenant with God as a unilateral, without any conditions. Can a unilateral covenant be broken? "Thus saith the LORD; If ye can break my covenant of the day, and my covenant of the night, and that there should not be day and night in their season; Then may also my covenant be broken with David my servant, that he should not have a son to reign upon his throne; and with the Levites the priests, my ministers." (Jeremiah 33:20-21) Here it would be inappropriate to continue to speculate about some partial diplomatic break-up on the part of God, for the whole future family tree of David, as the royal family, is in a direct threat to further development. To be sure, in Leviticus we find the following: "And yet for all that, when they be in the land of their enemies, I will not cast them away, neither will I abhor them, to destroy them utterly, and to break my covenant with them: for I am the LORD their God."(Leviticus 26:44). If the word "to break" (or "to dissolve") is translated like that, why then Professor Hoeksema interprets it as "violation" or "stepping out of the line", and not as "break-up" or "abrogation"? This is because for him, in the light of the teaching of Calvinism, a covenant is not mutual relations of two sides but an unconditional eternal promise which is given only to the chosen. Of course, if someone explains the definition of the covenant that way, then the "break-up" of the covenant will not have its usual meaning. In such a case, it can only mean a violation or stepping out of some line. However, a covenant was not shaped this way. God made His covenant with His people speaking to them on Mount Sinai: "I am your Lord and God, I have redeemed you." He made a promise to enter the promised land. But the people did not enter. This may mean that either the covenant was a fiction or a deceit, or it was simply broken. Since God made a covenant with all the people, it is erroneous to claim that the covenant was made only with particular chosen people. But if God made His covenant with all the people (in Christianity, with the Church), the fact that some people break it, proves the doctrine of the indissolubility of the covenant as false.

Obviously, covenant A between God and His people (or Christ and the Church) can not be equated with marriage covenant B, as there is no numerical identity and many attributes are still missing, so therefore A is not the same as B, and vice versa. In this respect, there exists only a qualitative identity, when one can say that A is to some extent identical with B, and has some common features and attributes. So, marriage between a man and a woman is not identical with the covenant between Christ and the Church. If to admit that the covenant between God and Israel broke up, then is the covenant between Christ and the Church considered to be unbreakable? As according to such a statement, the marriage covenant should also be unbreakable, as being qualitatively identical, preserving at least the indissolubility? The prerequisite for the indissolubility of the covenant lies in the fact that Christ does not break up the relationship with the Church. The interpreted identity of the covenants leads to the conclusion that people are not allowed to break the covenant of the marriage. Although the covenant between Christ and the Church is really unbreakable and indissoluble, its continuity is only technical and concerns the Church as a whole. The mechanism of the "indissolubility" of the covenant lies in the principle of the Church essence being a huge community of people which can be called a "social object". Such an object is not new, and theologically it is called "the Bride of Christ." The problem is that the Church as a social object, is not an exclusive entity of one person, and is a plurality in the unity of people around the world. That is why particular individuals from the Church are only a part of it, and not the Church as a whole. Moreover, those who have long ago passed away, and therefore a priori cannot change their attitude to Christ here on the Earth, also already belong to the Church as the Bride of Christ. Additionally, all kinds of divisions within the Church also play a positive role to preserve that covenant. As if at least one point of view in the division contradicts another point of view, the contradiction cannot be right within itself. So, though the Church loses those who have decided to stop their relationship with Christ, the rest of it does not change its direction to stay in the covenant with Christ. In the same way, Christ, who is multi-personal in this context, does not change His direction, as He is a part of the Trinity and cannot deny Himself. Therefore, the covenant between Christ and the Church, which is also called the covenant between God and His people, stays unbreakable. The idea of the “indissolubility" of the covenant also contradicts the Paul’s teaching: "For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remains no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgement and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries" (Hebrews 10: 26-27). Why would then exist a "fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries" if "having received the knowledge of the truth" means to be within an "unbreakable covenant"? That would make no sense. Moreover, if the covenant is unbreakable, then there is no need to keep oneself in holiness and to follow Christ in chastity. So, the covenant with a social object can be terminated, if it entirely opposes the conditions of the covenant. Only a person with one personality can be such a social object. However, the whole mechanism of the indissolubility model is not at all identical to the marriage of two physical people. As every partner is that entity of one person, which completely agrees or completely refuses to continue further relationship. The proof for the dissimilarity of the covenant of Christ with the Church and the one of the husband and wife is the problems with the responsibility with mentally ill people. For example, if one partner agreed and at the same time disagreed with one and the same issue, then such a phenomenon would be called a dissociative identity disorder — a mental disorder when a person has at least two personalities, each of them having its own type of perception. And if one personality of a patient has signed the contract, the other personality would deny it. Consequently, the person diagnosed with a dissociative identity disorder avoids the responsibility for their actions. Therefore, the covenant between Christ and the Church can not be regarded as an absolutely identical numerical similarity of the marriage of a man and a woman, as neither Christ and a husband, nor the Church and a wife are one and the same objects in their essence and responsibility. Accordingly, the covenant between Christ and the Church can only be considered only as qualitatively identical to the covenant between the husband and the wife, where only some properties or similarities are the same, commonly found in the marriage contract. But if even the covenant between Christ and the Church, or between God and His people is technically breakable, then the covenant between two people can be broken as well, as the law of Moses does not only presumes a divorce, but also has developed the whole process for that. As a result, the absolutely identical numeric similarity of the covenant of Christ and the Church and the marriage of a husband and a wife, as an argument for the indissolubility of the covenant, is incorrect and can be rejected as false.

Another possible argument can be based on the self-sacrifice as a virtue. If the ultimate goal of a Christian is to perform God's will as an act of gratitude for His love, then a divorce, which is the opposite of His principal will, cannot be a virtue. Thus, when the divorce is not a virtue, it cannot glorify God, and so, it is not acceptable for Christians. One can see several problems with such a statement. The first one is the lack of a pragmatic approach in that God Himself is a divorcee, as Scriptures shows. So if to consider that a divorce is a defamation of God, then it should be also admitted that He decided to defame Himself. As for the "virtue" itself, any marriage as a contract never makes anybody to sacrifice themselves unilaterally, as a contract, by definition, does not work that way. If the contract is terminated, it is destroyed, inoperative and binds nothing anymore, and thus no further sacrifice is expected. Since the marriage break-up is a presupposed process in case of its making, then the termination of the marriage under certain circumstances is rather a natural phenomenon than something forbidden. One should pay particular attention to love as a connecting factor. The classic passage about love is from 1 Corinthians: "Charity never fails: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away." (1 Corinthians 13:8). Here the point is that this "charity" is not erotic or sensual, but ἀγάπη (agape). Therefore, in this context, the word "love" can be interpreted as it has been translated into English in many versions, like "charity", "benevolance", "mercy", "graciousness" etc. All other types of love can indeed fail for one reason or another. However, to manifest true virtues, it is necessary to continue further good relations between the divorced, in charity and mercy. If a new marriage will be better for both and an example to others, what arguments then can prove that it can not glorify God? After all, that is exactly what happened to God Himself! — Israel disobeyed his Lord and walked away from Him. God made a new "marriage" with the spiritual Israel: all who believe in Christ "Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all." (Col. 3:11) Thus, the new marriage has become better, more reliable and glorious. From this perspective, the statement that a re-marriage will never glorify God is clearly false presumption.

So, if at least one partner stopped fulfilling his primary obligations, then a marriage as a contract is considered terminated while the reasons for that are not ill-considered, but sound. Accordingly, if there are no chances for the restoration of the marriage contract, then both partners are considered free. This does not at all mean that the marriage break-up should be processed immediately and that everything should be stopped once and for all. But it also does not mean that one must seek the possibility to restore the relationship until forever, if there are no firm grounds for that.