Summer 2014

Marriage’s Indissolubility: An Untenable Promise?

Antonio López

"Indissolubility, the incapacity of being dissolved, is the truth of giving."

Indissolubility is the joyous affirmation that nuptial love is not at the mercy of spouses’ moods, nor of the unforeseeable good or bad circumstances spouses may face, nor of the changing ideas or perceptions they may have of the “intimate communion of life and love” they are given to live.1 That the spousal love of a man and a woman is indissoluble means that love can continue to grow and spouses can be faithful through all the vicissitudes of married life. The glad tidings that nuptial love does not dissolve, however, seem to be constantly contradicted by human experience. Considering the fragility of human freedom, the unforeseeability of history, and the tendency to encapsulate the meaning of love in a narrow idea that one can master and to eliminate whatever cannot be folded into this partial perception, can indissolubility really define married love? Are not, rather, the great number of divorces and the constant practice of adultery tacit proof that indissolubility jeopardizes the fulfillment of one’s existence? Doesn’t the sacrifice required by indissolubility reveal how far it is from being a romantic dream? Furthermore, if one is aware of the irreducible otherness of the spouse and the immense responsibility of conceiving and educating children, doesn’t indissolubility appear to be excessive? Looking at these challenges, then, is it really honest to claim that witnessing to the “good news of the family” requires embracing an indissoluble and exclusive communion of love?2 Would it not be better to simply acknowledge that the spouses’ union of love and the total and personal gift of self to which they are called depend only on what lies within the capacity of their freedom? And if this is the case, would it not then be truer to grant that, no matter how painful the transition might be, sometimes nuptial love has to be lived with a different person from the one with whom one began?

The Church, far from ignoring these questions, is intimately familiar with the human reality they present for consideration. Because she is born from Christ’s eucharistic and sacrificial gift of self for her, the Church knows from her own existence the difficulties and failures of human love as well as what divine love can endure and bring forth (Rom 8:32). She has seen many times that only Christ knows what is in man, and that he, through his Spirit, allows men to see the truth of love and embrace it. Her experience and her union with Christ grant her the tender courage to proclaim that marriage is a valid path of holiness, that it is a state of life in which spouses can become fully human precisely because their God-given union is indissoluble and called to be fruitful.3 Aware of their joys and difficulties, the Church can accompany spouses, educate them to the truth of marriage, and witness to them through her very existence—that of which spousal love is the living memory: Christ’s love for the Church (Eph 5:32).4


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1. Catechism of the Catholic Church (hereafter CCC), no. 1660; Gaudium et spes (hereafter GS), 48, 1.

2. Familiaris consortio (hereafter FC), 85, 51; Evangelii gaudium, 66–67.

3. Lumen gentium, 41, 48–51.

4. FC, 79–85.