What Jesus Really Said About Sins of the Flesh

I have often heard it said that our Lord did not care overmuch about sins of the flesh; for He was relentless in his attacks upon hypocrisy, pride, and avarice, but was so mild towards adulterers and fornicators that we might, extrapolating from that mildness, so far dispense Christians from the strictures of the sixth commandment as to ignore their sins, nay, even to make a virtue of them, so long as they commit them with sufficient sweetness and affection.

That interpretation cannot be supported by any commonsense reading of His words.

When the Pharisees, “tempting Him,” asked Him whether it was lawful for a man to put away his wife for any cause at all, Jesus astonished and dismayed them with his reply.  They were not asking Him whether divorce was allowable.  Of course it was.  They were asking Him on what grounds divorce was allowable.  They should have known better.  This same Jesus, after all, is He who said that a man who but looks at a woman with lust in his heart has already committed adultery with her.  It is insanity to try to turn that declaration inside out.  We cannot say that a man who commits adultery—the Greek word, like the Latin, suggests not the breaking of a vow, but the soiling of something that ought to be clean—is as pardonable as a man who turns a wolf’s eye towards the pretty lady; just as we cannot say that a man who kills his brother is as pardonable as a man who calls him a fool.  That would be counsel from a satanic sermon under the mountains.

As only Jesus can, because only He has the authority, He returns to the arche, somewhat feebly translated in English as “the beginning,” tempting us to suppose that He is talking about the early days: “Have ye not read, that He which made them at the beginning made them male and female?”  But the Greek arche—we must think of the first words of Genesis, and of the trumpet blare that opens the Gospel of John—means much more than a start.  It suggests a governing principle, an underlying reality.  In the beginning, at the heart of human existence, we are made male and female, for one another.  “For this cause,” says Jesus, quoting Genesis again, “shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh.”  The man leaves one marriage, as the child of a father and mother, to enter another marriage, to become with his wife the new and glorious thing in the world, one flesh, in the unitive and procreative act of intercourse.

Now, the Greek is mia sarx, a single flesh; not one-in-flesh, or united-by-flesh, but a single fleshly being.  No one who considers divorce a possibility can speak in such a way, no more than he could imagine a person walking and talking while cloven in two.  In other words, the moral scandal that there shall be no divorce rests upon the ontological scandal, that man and woman are for one another and in a special way complete one another in marriage.  Nor is this the only occasion in the gospels when the word sarx gives scandal.  We should recall the words of John, that the logos or speaking-to that was in the beginning, that is, at the heart of all things, sarx egeneto, became flesh; and the scandalous words he reports of Jesus, that His flesh, sarx, is true meat.  To say that Jesus is not our bread from heaven is to deny that He is the Word-made-Flesh, God with God from the beginning; it is the same, to deny that He has the authority to reveal to us why we are male and female, and to forbid us to sunder that one flesh by divorce or to mock it by fornication.

But the Pharisees persist.  They ask the “reasonable” question.  Why did Moses command—note the verb—that the man give his wife a bill of divorce?  Jesus does not accept that verb.  Moses permitted it pros ten sklerokardian hymon, “on account of your sclerocardia”!  The word sounds as if it described an illness, and sure enough it does—the hardness of a heart that does not truly love God.  Jesus did not say, “Moses allowed it because he felt sorry for you,” or, “Moses permitted it because your hearts would only find true love after a divorce.”  Jesus evinces no sympathy for the man who wants to put away his woman; and again He brings us back before the fall: “From the beginning it was not so.”

Can He possibly make the Pharisees, and His own disciples, more uncomfortable, more uncertain about the respectable, decent, broadminded, tolerant sclerocardia of their day?  Yes, He can.  “Whosoever shall put away his woman,” Greek gynaika; whereupon Jesus must clarify that He is not speaking of the splitting up of fornicators, who are bad enough already, “and marry another, commits adultery”—has befouled himself; and so too the man who marries that woman.

The disciples are abashed.  “If the case”—Greek aitia, the same word used by the Pharisees for cause, above—“of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry.”  Honest men, these disciples.  They resist the teaching of Jesus, because they acknowledge that their own hearts are pretty hard.  They feel that sclerocardia.  Jesus’ response, again, makes matters more difficult, not less.  He does not say, “Try your best, and if you fail, the Father will wink and let you pass.”  No, the Lord follows His proscription of divorce with the mysterious implicit parable of those who make themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven.  Some men are born eunuchs from the womb; it is a misfortune of nature.  Some men are made eunuchs; it is a crime.  But some men make themselves eunuchs for heaven—how are we to understand that?

A common interpretation is that Jesus is recommending celibacy, though not for everybody.  I won’t dispute that, but I should like to suggest an additional interpretation, and one that would bind in one coherent whole the beginning of the dispute with what happens right afterwards.  For we are in the company of one kind of eunuch all the time.  So was Jesus, when the conversation about marriage ended, or seemed to have ended.  People brought little children to Him, that He might bless them and pray for them, and when the disciples rebuked the people—mothers, I’d guess—Jesus rebuked them in turn and told them to let the little children come to Him, “for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”

We are to make ourselves like little children, if we wish to dwell in our Father’s kingdom.  We are to make ourselves eunuchs, for the sake of the kingdom.  If we remember that Jesus never humiliates, but humbles us in order that we may be exalted, we may conclude that we are to be like children so that we may be more like Christ; and eunuchs, so to speak, that we may the more fully participate in the power of the Father.  But when we suffer from sclerocardia, that adult disease, we say, “I simply must put this woman of mine away!”  And we say, “I cannot possibly abstain from intercourse, and kindly do not expect me to confine my desires to one person!”  And, “I must cleave this flesh in two!”  And, “I must do what the body urges!”  For that too underlies the chagrin of the disciples.  If we cannot divorce, is it not dangerous to marry?  But if we do not marry, how can we make it from day to day without provision for the flesh, and the lusts thereof?

Such are the thoughts that roil in the hearts of decent, respectable, reasonable people.  But Jesus in this scene has two things in mind, and those two things belong together.  He has in mind the innocent beginning—the arche, man and woman made for one another, for the one-flesh, before our fall into the idolatry of sin; and the (relatively) innocent creatures toddling about Him.  Might a man put away his wife for any cause at all?  Or a woman put away her husband?  No; the created nature of man and woman forbids it.  As evidence, behold the little children.

Now, if anybody can derive from this scene the conclusion that Jesus blesses semi-monogamy, fornication with semi-commitment, niceness in bed, serial seriousness, soft porneia, or any other honey-brushed swoggle of old hardhearted lust, I claim then that we might as easily say that He recommends paying homage to Satan, so long as it be done with finesse and consideration for the tender feelings of your neighbor.  It cannot be.

Indeed, He is calling us to a life of genuine, innocent, full-hearted, and dynamic love.  He is calling us to have hearts of flesh.

Editor’s note: The image above entitled “Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon before Papal Legates at Blackfriars, 1529” was painted by Frank O. Salisbury in 1910.

Anthony Esolen


Professor Esolen is a teaching fellow and writer in residence at Thomas More College of the Liberal Arts, in Merrimack, New Hampshire. Dr. Esolen is a regular contributor to Crisis Magazine and the author of many books, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization (Regnery Press, 2008); Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child (ISI Books, 2010) and Reflections on the Christian Life (Sophia Institute Press, 2013). His most recent books are Reclaiming Catholic Social Teaching (Sophia Institute Press, 2014); Defending Marriage (Tan Books, 2014); Life Under Compulsion (ISI Books, 2015); and Out of the Ashes (Regnery, 2017).

  • Great article, but which ‘Esolen’ wrote it?

  • Sagitta

    The idea that Jesus “was so mild towards adulterers and fornicators that we might, extrapolating from that mildness, so far dispense Christians from the strictures of the sixth commandment as to ignore their sins” always seemed odd to me for it seems never to be applied to other sins. Jesus was also mild towards embezzlers (Zacchaeus), extortionists (Matthew), thieves (the good thief), terrorists (Simon the zealot) and murderers (Paul). If Jesus’ mildness toward adulterers and fornicators means that adultery and fornication need not be taken seriously, wouldn’t it also mean then that embezzlement, extortion, theft, acts of terrorism and murder need not be taken seriously?

    • Ford Oxaal

      It seemed odd to you because you are rational. But in the mind of the modern American heeding to the faint echoes of Christendom, we all just have to be nice. Can’t we all just be nice? No further research or inquiry is necessary. Besides, nice people aren’t into “embezzlement, extortion, theft, acts of terrorism and murder”. And sex isn’t bad. Sex is just part of who we are, and should be enjoyed by all! There’s nothing wrong with that as long as you are ‘safe’. And besides, it’s none of your business.

    • cestusdei

      Jesus was mild toward repentant sinners.

    • Facile1

      During the time of Jesus, adultery was punishable with death by stoning for women.

      During the time of Jesus, theft was punishable by the amputation of the hand.

      During the time of Jesus, prisoners of conscience were crucified.

      While Jesus believed sin begins in the head, He did not advocate criminal penalties.

      And we haven’t exactly evolved from there.

      In the Philippines, adultery is still punishable with death by stoning for Filipino women married to Muslim men and flogging for the Muslim men (and death for the Christians, of course). Christian adulterers (men and women) are penalized with imprisonment for two years. This is actually an improvement because until the change in the Law only women could be charged with the crime of adultery.

      Prostitution is still a crime punishable with imprisonment in the Philippines and in some states of the US.

      And while Capital Punishment is no longer a punishment for any crime committed by a Christian in the Philippines, can you say the same for the US?

      • Mark Y

        “But this is actually an improvement because until a rather recent change
        in Philippine Law only women could be charged with the crime of

        False. In Philippine law, the crime of adultery was the crime of a married woman who has sexual intercourse with a man who is not her husband AND is the crime of a man who has intercourse with a married woman knowing that she is married. So adultery could both apply to women AND men.

        Also, in the Philippines, the legal counterpart to “adultery” for married men is called “concubinage.” It also applies to a woman who has intercourse with a married man knowing that he is married.

        Only recently did the level of punishment became equivalent. The Charging classification of “adultery” and “concubinage” still remain.

        • Facile1

          My point is that Jesus does not advocate criminal penalties for sin.

          What is your point?

          • Rock St. Elvis

            He doesn’t talk of abrogating criminal penalties either, but in the forgiveness of sin. What’s your point?

            • Facile1

              See my reply to Mark Y.

          • Mark Y

            My point was your claim about Philippine law was false. I thought I stated that quite clearly in the first paragraph after quoting your statement.

            • Facile1

              See my reply to Sagitta.

    • Facile1

      This is addressed to “Mark Y” and “Rock St. Elvis”. But I am posting it as a reply to “Sagitta” because the thread begins here.

      I wrote:

      “My point is that Jesus does not advocate criminal penalties for sin.

      What is your point?”

      Mark Y replied:

      “My point was your claim about Philippine law was false. I thought I stated that quite clearly in the first paragraph after quoting your statement.”

      EXCEPT YOU DIDN’T, my darling.

      I wrote and you quoted me:

      “But this is actually an improvement because until a rather recent change in Philippine Law only women could be charged with the crime of adultery.”

      You replied and I quote:

      “in the Philippines, the legal counterpart to ‘adultery’ for married men is called ‘concubinage.'”

      SO, WHAT EXACTLY DO YOU MEAN BY THE PHRASE “the legal counterpart to ‘adultery’ for married men”?

      If I erred, it is because I said too little.

      If you erred, it is because you said too much.

      I’m leaving it as an exercise to the reader to determine what Philippine Law really says.

      Regardless, my point is: UNLIKE MUHAMMAD or even Moses, Jesus does not advocate criminal penalties for sin. On the contrary, Jesus advocates the separation of Church and State (see Matthew 22:19-21).

      Rock St. Elvis replied and I quote:

      “He doesn’t talk of abrogating criminal penalties either, but in the forgiveness of sin.”

      See John 16:11 “…the ruler of this world has been condemned.”

      I’ve always wondered what purpose criminal penalties serve with regard to ‘adultery’.

      Who does it serve when the mother of your children is thrown in jail?

      Who does it serve when the father of your children is stripped of his professional licenses?

      Again, what is your point?

  • hombre111

    Basically, who can disagree with this good article? I do have three thoughts, though. The first is the difference between the sociological/cultural reality of the ancient Jews and our reality today. Jesus was speaking within a world of closely connected expanded families, where a man usually married his cousin after an agreement between his father and brother. Their marriage was not for their individual goals, for the sake of the larger family. Thus, a couple had a lot of support. But a divorce could lead to mortal split in that family when a cousin divorced his cousin, putting himself into conflict with his father’s brother.

    Secondly, while Dr. Esolen can approach this issue in an intellectual fashion, parish priests are forced to approach the same issue in a pastoral fashion. Like it or not, most American Catholics have taken Protestant individualism to heart. This means that, when they get married, it is not for the sake of their larger expanded family but for their own private goals. They usually go on to live by themselves, with their larger families far away. That is the sociological/cultural reality within which modern couples live.

    Thirdly, what if a divorce is the only thing that makes sense in an abusive situation? Also, Americans, unlike Italians, are not patient when the husband takes a mistress. And what is a spouse to do when the other spouse is the one who files for divorce? And what if a Catholic marries a Catholic or non-Catholic for whom divorce was no big deal, and who did not have a clue about the noble reality explained by Dr. Esolen? I am not being sarcastic here. This is the dilemma faced by pastors and by the Church itself. What would Jesus do in the midst of our modern reality? I think he would teach the highest view, expressed in this article, while ministering to the weak and stumbling in a compassionate way.

    • ColdStanding

      Has anyone tried preaching about it?

      • hombre111

        I don’t know about priests in general, but I did it once in a while, with great caution. People often don’t hear what you really said. On those occasions I would write the sermon, read it word for word, and put it in the file.

    • patricia m.

      If your wife or your husband files for divorce, even though you do not agree with it, the right thing to do is to live your life in chastity. That’s kind of implicit in the text, to become a eunuch. And it doesn’t really matter if you got married to a Catholic or to a non Catholic.

      • hombre111

        Even St. Paul did not prescribe this, in the case of a person married to a pagan. The marriage could be broken. My sister, divorced, lives the way you recommend. But as a pastor aware of how one size does not fit all, it is not possible or even healthy for everybody. The Church recognizes this and in her marriage case system, tries to find pastorally compassionate solutions. You remind me of some saying from the distant past: Don’t be holier than the Church!

        • John

          Didn’t St. Paul recommend this to the pagans because they did not have a valid sacramental marriage to begin with?

          • hombre111

            The notion of a sacramental marriage came much later in the Church.

            • Facile1

              It was Jesus who instituted the sacrament of Marriage — NOT the church. That the Church took notice only “much later” is NO reflection on Marriage as a sacrament.

              • hombre111

                The earliest example of a priest blessing a marriage (in that case,it was a bishop) was in the 500’s or 600’s. The Church did not get around to naming the seven sacraments, including the sacrament of marriage, until Trent.

                • Facile1

                  Was the “ad hominem” attack really necessary?

                  I chose the name “Facile1” as a caution to my readers that whatever I write should be regarded as “off-the-cuff” — due to the nature of the medium (ie “blogging”).

                  It is actually the responsibility of the reader (NOT the poster) to read outside the “reply” box.

                  But let us be clear on this matter. I do NOT like you.

                  However, you do provide a useful function to me precisely because you challenge beliefs I sometimes do not know I hold. If I feel strongly enough about the subject, I might compose a comment (which I try to limit to 300 words). And due to the limitations of the medium, every word has to count. I might even do some research. So, there is nothing “easy” about being “facile”. It is a lot of work.

                  My compulsion to reply to your comments is sometimes born of the fear that there may be some out there who may attach undue authority to your postings in deference to the office of the priesthood (which you claim you hold). Do not blog as a priest if you’re intent is to challenge the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church.

                  An “ad hominem” attack may be necessary when you want to catch someone’s attention. But rest assured. You always have mine.

                  BTW, I don’t buy this “priest” stuff or this “hombre111” stuff. Methinks the lady doth protest too much.

                  And just so everyone knows, I am also a lady.

                  • hombre111

                    I do apologize for an ad hominem attack. It reflects my impatience with conservative thinkers. I have been a student my entire life. As I look at so many of my fellow priests, I am stunned by their lack of curiosity. Great golf scores. Working on their post-retirement stock portfolios. But whenever I visit them, I take a look at their libraries and, so many times, I find mostly books from seminary days.

                    I see this same lack of curiosity in conservatives. The world of understanding did not end some time in the past. History and its challenges go on. That is why Vatican II was a moment of salvation for me. Pope John XXIII opened the window. Does the institutional Church have the capacity to keep that window open?

                    I accept the fact that the Church is, by its nature, conservative. The winds of fashion don’t blow it over. But being conservative can turn into rigidity. I see some good articles in Crisis, but over and over again, I see the teaching of the living Church turned into stone.

                    • Facile1

                      Apology accepted. Thank you.

                      HOWEVER … we are not done yet.

                      It is also an “ad hominem” fallacy to bolster the merits of one’s arguments with claims of investiture from a higher authority.

                      “I work in NASA.” (Therefore all the statements I make in this anonymous blog site should be accepted as scientific and TRUE.)

                      When I must lapse into “mathematical jargon”, I warn readers that I have a graduate degree in mathematics; and perhaps to better understand a necessarily facile post, they may wish to look up the mathematical context (and not the general context) of the term I am using.

                      But how does one VERIFY INDEPENDENTLY a claim to ecclesiastical authority when the person of interest blogs under an assumed name? Claiming ecclesiastical authority is at best a disservice to the reader and at worst demonic.

                      If you are truly acting in ‘good faith’, clear the slate. Retire the Disqus username “Hombre111” (and its corresponding e-mail address). By all means, create a NEW Disqus username (with a NEW corresponding e-mail address.) “FACILE2” will do. But NEVER AGAIN refer to yourself as RCC clergy in explicitly Catholic blog sites.

                      Let your arguments rise and fall on their own merits.

                      Until then (and with all due respect), we are NOT done yet, ma’am.

        • msmischief

          How do you know it is not possible? How do you know that God’s grace would not suffice if tried?

          As for healthy, remember Jesus’s recommendation for what to do if your right hand leads you into sin. The very least that can mean is that a life that seems by worldly standards to be limited and truncated may be required to attain salvation.

          Then, we should not judge by worldly standards.

          • hombre111

            A long time ago, in one of the most conservative seminaries in the United States, I heard the profs say, Grace works through and in nature. That is why it remains such a struggle.

        • Dave in NC

          My, my, that poor benighted son of Mary just couldn’t see what difficulties we sophisticated moderns must deal with.

          Somehow I don’t believe that it was advice that the Lord was giving.

          • hombre111

            Do you believe in the Incarnation? The Word of God made human flesh? If Jesus was as human as we all are, except for sin, he lived within, and struggled with, his own cultural reality. If he could foresee all the future, he wasn’t as human as you or me. We are saved precisely by Jesus becoming one of us with all our human limitations. Read the Church Fathers. They say this over and over again. Guided by the Holy Spirit, we try to live in the Spirit of Jesus today. But we live in a different culture. We can’t go back and live in expanded patriarchal families. We can’t go back and marry first cousins. and etc..

        • Anthony

          Nor be more “compassionate” than the Church! Fidelity to a valid, even if civilly divorced, marriage is still binding. A true pastor in such a case would give the spiritual direction to help the person to live a chaste life in divorce. This is what the Church recognizes and counsels.

          • hombre111

            Sorry, but the Church grants annulments. Basically, what the Church does, through its marriage tribunals, is try to decide whether a sacramental marriage ever existed. Her process is long and complicated, but much of the time, the Church concludes no sacramental marriage was present and blesses another marriage. Call your local Catholic marriage tribunal, usually located in the Chancery Office, to verify this for yourself.

            • Anthony

              I am quite aware of annulments. If you read my comment above you will see that I posited the case of a valid marriage. In such a case fidelity to the marriage is still binding.

              You misrepresent the nature of annulments. The question for the tribunal is not if a sacramental marriage ever existed but if a valid marriage does exist. The Church is not seeking a compassionate solution for a difficult situation; it is investigating the existence of a fact. Even a non-sacramental marriage (I will leave aside the exceptions of both the Pauline and Petrine privileges) is binding. Annulments do not address the situation of valid but broken marriages. In such cases a pastor, if he is to be faithful to Jesus Christ, faces the challenge of leading the person to chastity in a continuing valid, even if civilly divorced, marriage.

            • Anthony

              I am well aware of annulments. If you read my comment above you will see that I speaking of a valid marriage.

              You misrepresent the nature of annulments. The question for the tribunal is not if a sacramental marriage was present but if a valid marriage, even if non-sacramental, does exist. An annulment is not the Church’s attempt to find a pastorally compassionate solution but to find the truth if there is a valid marriage. If one does exist ( I will leave aside the exceptions of the Pauline and Petrine privileges ) then the requirement for fidelity exists despite a civil divorce. An annulment does not address the situation of a divorced but still valid marriage.

    • John

      It is too bad that the prophet John didn’t have access to all of our modern pastoral knowledge – he might have turned ol’ Herod around after all. And I won’t even go into St. Paul and his letter to the Corinthians… 🙂

      • hombre111

        Every generation has to discovery Christ and through him, God the Father, by the light of the Holy Spirit. We all start at zero. We are born into a torn, selfish, and violent world. There seems to be something inside us that wants to say “no!” from the beginning. We do not see clearly, but through the eyes of our family and the surrounding culture. We inflict our sins on each other. So, with each child, God starts from scratch, depending on fragile parents, a human if holy Church, in the midst of a world that often denies God. There is progress, but it is very, very slow.

    • msmischief

      Using the sacrament for your own private goals does not invalidate a marriage, any more than using it for your family’s wealth, power, and political connections does. To marry is to incur obligations. In particular, even by your standards, it can introduce a mortal split between the parents and the children, most damaging to the children.

      • hombre111

        When I introduce a marriage case to the Chancery, they are going to ask one question for sure: Was it even a sacrament? Did the couple mean to love each other the way God loves us? Getting married for wealth, power, and political connections, instead of as a way to love each other the way God loves, would probably cause the marriage to be annulled.

      • Facile1

        The sacrament of marriage cannot be used for “private goals” simply because it involves more than just you. We live in families, churches, neighborhoods, communities, and nations. Social networks live and die because of marriages. Marriage can never be a private affair.

    • Facile1

      When my American ex-husband and I were frantically looking for some authority to marry us, I had the brilliant idea of approaching the Student Chaplain with the request.

      Though my ex-husband was an atheist (probably still is), I was a baptized Catholic raised by American nuns. So though I was not a practicing Catholic by any stretch of the imagination, I thought I was entitled to the Catholic Sacrament of Marriage (and that very important civil marriage license).

      I was simply astonished when I was refused!

      Though he does not know it, Fr. Gerald actually facilitated my return to the Catholic Church a decade later, when my marriage of convenience ended in divorce. All I had to request was a “dispensation from canonical form”(which I received in less than a week after my divorce became final). Compare that to what happened to my younger sister’s annulment. Her marriage was officiated by Cardinal Sin in the Manila Cathedral. Her civil annulment (There is no divorce in the Philippines) and her church annulment took decades. It was also very expensive due to the trans-pacific communications that had to take place.

      It’s been over two decades since my divorce and I have not remarried. Nor do I have any intentions of ever marrying again. However, I recently discovered that for my divorce to be recognized in the Philippines, I will have to take my papers to the Regional Trial Courts to have them validated. Otherwise, my ex-husband can accuse me (and my lovers to be) of adultery, which is punishable by imprisonment in this country.

      While I know my ex-husband (who has since remarried) will NEVER go to such lengths of vindictiveness, I do believe in safe sex. I actually don’t know if rape is an acceptable defense for adultery here in the Philippines. I was told it isn’t for Filipino women married to Muslim men.

      • hombre111

        The Catholic Church correctly takes marriage very, very seriously. How easy it is to receive an anullment depends on what country you live in. In the United States, the different dioceses, for pastoral reasons (ie, compassion) an anullment takes about two years. It used to be shorter, but Pope John Paul made the process more difficult because he was scandalized at the number of annullments in the United States. That is, of course, because Americans have more divorces than anybody else. I don’t think his making the process more complicated ever reduced the number of divorces. But it does cause lots of young Catholics to do what you did.
        At that point, we can argue about how to respect marriage as a sacrament and how to help people whose marriages end because of the lack of maturity (emotional and religious) on the part of at least one of the couples.
        My sister, whose marriage ended in a divorce, mad the decision you have made. She lives a solitary life. I try to support her every way I can. God be with you.

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  • msmischief

    One also notes that many sexual sinners nowadays also take the tone they
    are not self-righteous, priggish, intolerant — or even as this

  • Emmanuel Jude

    What are you trying to say Anthony;human understanding of God on human terms results in such unclear thoughts only ;and why should Advent post this ?

  • Mark

    “we might, extrapolating from that mildness, so far dispense Christians from the strictures of the sixth commandment as to ignore their sins”

    This is an odd way of phrasing this. Dispensing is one thing, “ignoring” is another. In all truth, “we” probably CAN ignore “their” sins of the flesh. A Christian’s concern is not with other people’s sins, certainly not specifically (albeit we have a general concern for their spiritual welfare, which is different). This doesn’t mean we’ve dispensed anything; it just means we mind our own business, we mind our own sins.

  • Lynda

    I thought this was a well written explanation. I agree with all you say….and at the same time thank God for the Catholic Church in considering the difficulties we moderns find ourselves in and can take upon herself the decision to acknowledge the truth or lack of the sacrament of marriage and so permit remarriage where its possible.
    I have a question? In the middle ages (I think) married couples could separate for each to enter religious life. Is that still a possibility or is marriage an absolute impediment to this sort of decision?

    • John

      Believe the bible states that people can separate if required (e.g. in cases of abuse); but that they cannot divorce since they are still married even if they are separated. Marriage is an unbreakable union until death. While it is the norm, marriage doesn’t necessarily mean living together. A number of professions require extremely long period of time away from home, and while these professions might be best accomplished by those called to the single vocation, there are certainly cases of these jobs being necessarily filled by married persons. There are also evidently more modern cases of parents separating to become religious. After he left home to become a Franciscan in 1910, St. Maximilian Kolbe’s parents separated and dedicated themselves to religious lives. His mother became a became a Benedictine and later a Felician lay sister, and his father a Franciscan until he left the Order to direct a bookshop at Czestochowa, the national shrine of the Blessed Virgin. After enlisting with Palsudski’s patriots, Maximilian’s father was wounded fighting the Russians, and as one of their subjects, was hanged as a traitor in 1914, aged forty-three.

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  • Bill

    I don’t have a bible handy but did not Jesus say that that divorce is not allowed except in the case of adultery?

  • Paul

    Didn’t He made himself clear that “who ever looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery in his heart…”? Nothing mild about that.

  • Mark

    I find it unfortunate that this otherwise excellent article omits the non-Gospel parts of God’s Word, who is Christ. I often hear people say “Jesus said this, Paul said that” in defense of something (which is usually dismissive of “what St. Paul preached”). My reply is often “But realize that the entire scriptures, especially the New Testament, is God’s revelation to us.” Christ the Word has a whole lot more words to say about your subject in scripture than just what Jesus the man spoke. Considering how the epistles expand upon it while keeping in mind that Jesus had “a lot more to say but the disciples weren’t ready,” we can see an ever-deepening growth in how serious the sins of the flesh are once the church was more ready to receive it.

  • Greg Colley

    It is far too easy to produce reams and reams and reams of exegesis telling other people how to order their lives to meet one’s interpretation of Gospel standards, and offer not one sentence of pastoral advice, or consider pastoral implications. Never mind disclose whether one does any pastoral work or not.

    Unlike many who can tell us EXACTLY how the Gospel tell us we should behave, Jesus was offering more than ethical strictures. He was inviting us to understand the behavior that humans are capable of given the conversion of their hearts. To speak of the behavior — and offer not one sentence of direction towards the path of metanoia — is to be a Pharisee (as in, for example, the Pharisee and the Publican).

    I will pray for YOUR conversion, Professor Esolen.

  • Facile1

    There seems to be an unwritten, unspoken assumption in this article and in many of the comments that follow that men and women are equal in a marriage.

    They are not.

    Men and women are not equal for three very important reasons:

    1) Men and women serve different reproductive functions and therefore, are necessarily different physiologically. I’m not saying women are incapable of murdering their husbands. But I am saying “brute force” is usually NOT an option for women. As for a man, not much thought is required to go from rage to execution.

    2) The free market value placed on human labor split on gender. I’m not saying equal work does not deserve equal pay. But I am saying men can command by virtue of size and voice, saving a lot of time thereby. Stage presence alone is very useful. So while a man and a woman may be equal in brilliance, men don’t need to say a whole lot to get things going. And getting things going is half-way to getting things done.

    3.) Children learn courage from their mothers. I’m not saying orphans cannot learn courage on their own. But a man with a weapon? What courage is there in that really? Now a poor widow putting in her last two cents worth … (Mark 12:41-44). That is courage.

    Because marriage cannot be a partnership between equals, marriage works only when both parties bend their wills toward God’s. I’m not advocating “same sex” marriage. Two of the same gender will only produce made-to-order orphans, who may not appreciate that restraint is the better part of LOVE; that different strengths increase the likelihood of finding a solution; and that opposing priorities fall into place when we LOVE God first.

    You’re probably disappointed. You’re not alone. The Pharisees and Jesus’ own disciples were very disappointed too.

    • HammerDoc

      Equal though, in both dignity and value. Their roles are different and THEY are necessarily different, but both ARE made equally in the image and likeness of God.

      • Facile1

        Thank you. Point well taken.

        However, one cannot ignore the fact that there are at least TWO separate and unequal wills in a marriage.

        Men have the statistical advantage because of the nature of “brute force” built into their physiology.

        For example, women and men think differently. When one has babies hanging on to each teat, one may have energy left over only for leaps of faith. Men, on the other hand, have the luxury of reason always. I’m not saying men are better thinkers and women are all hormones. I am saying thinking takes time and effort. Men will use “brute force” before they will examine evidence. I am certain if “brute force” was an option made available to women (as in using the “FORCE of the LAW” to legislate equality in a marriage), women would do the same.

        BUT perhaps Jesus was merely stating the obvious. Hubris and self-righteousness have no place in a marriage. Perhaps a marriage can work only when both parties bend their wills toward God’s.

        Legislating equality in a marriage is a false hope — even for “same-sex” marriages.

        The Pharisees and Jesus’ own disciples were disappointed when they heard Jesus because they did not want to hear that God’s will (and not theirs) is what should take precedence in a marriage. But I doubt any truly discerning woman (who hears Jesus) is.

        • HammerDoc

          The Church teaches that the only LEGITIMATE use of authority is the authority of SERVICE. So, even if you take the Biblical view of man as authoritative head of the family, that man is flat out WRONG and UNBIBLICAL if he uses that authority for anything EXCEPT SERVING his family. (NOT himself. NOT his ego. Etc.)

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