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v2.1 Reference

The Indissolubility of Marriage and the Council of Trent

This important volume examines the Catholic Church's doctrine on the indissolubility of marriage as taught by the 16th century Ecumenical Council of Trent (1545-1563). In the Council's reply to Reformation challenges on the sacraments, it took up the question of whether anything—in particular, adultery—could dissolve a sacramental marriage. The question was discussed at length in 1547, and again, after a lengthy delay, in 1563. The considerations culminated in doctrinal definitions on marriage invested with the full authority of the Catholic Church. For historical reasons that the author considers in detail (reason related to the relationship between Rome and the Greek Orthodox churches), the most important of these definitions—Canon 7—was ambiguously worded. This has led to a centuries-long debate on the intentions of the council for the meaning of that canon, and, indeed for the council's wider teaching on martial indissolubility. E. Christian Brugger aims to shed light on this debate.

The Indissolubility of Marriage and the Council of Trent begins by laying out the fundamental questions addressed by Trent, the ambiguities of Canon 7, and the nature of the interpretive debate that's been underway since the early seventeenth century. It examines the views on divorce and remarriage of Luther and Calvin as the council fathers would have known them, as well as the beliefs and practices of the Greek churches. It then undertakes an analysis of the conciliar discussions as recorded in Trent's formal register (the Acta) and other primary documents. Brugger further provides an interpretation of the Council's final teaching on indissolubility. This interpretation draws attention to subtleties overlooked by most commentators on Trent. These have either over-interpreted the scope of the Council's teaching, arguing that its canons explicitly placed the divorce practices of Greek Christians under an anathema, or they have argued that the Council, intending no more than to strike the heresies of the Protestants, exempted Greek divorce from its authoritative promulgations. Drawing on both interpretations but siding with neither, Brugger proposes that Trent did indeed dogmatically teach the absolute indissolubility of sacramental marriage, while conceding a policy of toleration—but not approval—for Greek divorce for the sake of ecclesial communion between the churches.

About the Author

E. Christian Brugger is J. Francis Cardinal Stafford Professor of Moral Theology at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary , Denver, CO


"Brugger's analysis is as crisp as one could hope His diligence in rendering the complicated Latin into plain spoken English and his familiarity with the secondary literature on the subject commends the volume to both graduate theological libraries (both Catholic and Protestant), interested faculty, and canon law collections. Doubtless it will also be read in more than one Roman dicastery."—Catholic Library World

"With great energy and un blinking conviction, E. Christian Brugger, who is now professor and dean at the School of Philosophy and Theology at the University of Notre Dame, Australia, argues that the Council of Trent (1545–1563) taught unequivocally that marriage is indissoluble."—Commonweal Magazine

"I was happy to stumble upon Christian Brugger's breathtaking analysis of Trent. It is not a historical study but of crucial importance for the discussion of divorce and remarriage in Catholicism Brugger's book should be widely read and discussed; especially graduate students can learn from its clearly formulated arguments and its textual analysis; this is how historical theology should be done. Whether one agrees with the conclusions he presents or not—this is clearly one of the most important books on the history of Catholic theology of 2017."—Regensburg Forum

"Professor Brugger deserves much credit for his careful and scholarly analysis of the discussions leading up to the Nov. 11, 1563, Doctrine and Canons on the Sacrament of Marriage. The Indissolubility of Marriage & The Council of Trent shows what an important service scholars like Brugger can provide to the Church. If scholars like Fransen can lead many theologians and bishops to question Trent's absolute affirmation of marital indissolubility, scholars like Brugger are needed to set the record straight. Prof. Brugger deserves much praise and thanks for his scholarly and valuable book."—Catholic Social Science Review

"Brugger's remarkable book is a singular service to the Church and essential reading for anyone, whether suspicious of or sympathetic to the thesis, and who is seriously interested in learning what Trent actually teaches about the indissolubility of marriage."—Thomist

"This book, written by a moral theologian, is based on excellent historical research. As the title itself states, the essay examines the issue of the indissolubility of marriage in Christian doctrine and tradition, starting with a thorough analysis of the Tridentine debate on the subject."—Catholic Historical Review

"The Indissolubility of Marriage and the Council of Trent by E. Christian Brugger should be required reading for anyone seriously involved in recent Catholic debates over divorce and remarriage. The book advances two important points. First, the Council of Trent did hold that sacramental marriage is inherently indissoluble despite what some interpreters have claimed. Second, rigorous historical inquiry is essential to good moral theology."—National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly

"The book offers an exemplary treatment of the historical path by which Trent arrived at its teaching on the marriage bondThis book is one that will be indispensable for those wishing to reflect on how to present the Church's teaching on marriage today in a way that remains faithful to its tradition."—New Blackfriars

"For scholars of the early modern church, particularly those focused on the reforms of marriage in the sixteenth century, this book may be of some interest. It provides an admirably detailed and easily digestible exploration of the debates and discussions about indissolubility, primarily taken from the massive thirteen-volume Concilium Tridentinum series. The book also includes three substantial appendixes, which provide the reader with the writings of various theological authorities referenced at Trent (in Latin and English), the statements of the General Congregation on Indissolubility from 1563 (also in Latin and English), and a complete schedule of the Council of Trent, all of which may be of use to scholars of Tridentine reforms of marriage."—Renaissance Quarterly

"In The Indissolubility of Marriage and the Council of Trent, E. Christian Brugger, professor of moral theology at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, gives a focused and exhaustive account of the sixteenth-century Church's treatise on matrimony and its implications for theologians today."—First Things

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