Church Fathers that Allowed Remarriage after Divorce

This particular topic came up in discussion with a friend of mine who is a Ph.D. student at Dallas Theological Seminary.  He argured that divorce and remarriage in the case of adultery was sanctioned by the early church.  To support his position he could only produce three obscure references out of the voluminous works of the fathers that attested to his point.  I have include them here a reference.

St. Epiphanius of Cyprus (403)

“He who cannot keep continence after the death of his first wife, or who has separated from his wife for a valid motive, as fornication, adultery, or another misdeed, if he takes another wife, or if the wife takes another husband, the divine word does not condemn him nor exclude him from the Church or the life; but she tolerates it rather on account of his weakness” (Against Heresies).


On 1 Corinthians 7, 10-11. “‘A woman may not leave her husband. If she has left him, she may not remarry.’ This is the Apostle's advice, that, if she has left her husband because of his bad behavior, she remains unmarried. ‘Or she should be reconciled to her husband.’ In case she cannot contain herself, because she does not want to fight against the flesh, she should be reconciled to her husband; for it is not permitted to the woman to marry (again) if she has divorced her husband because of (his) fornication or apostasy . . .
If however the man has apostatized, or seeks to change the use of his wife, the woman may neither marry another man or return to him. ‘And the husband should not divorce his wife.’ Understood however is: except in the case of fornication. And therefore the Apostle does not add, as in the case of the woman, that he should remain as he is when he has divorced her. For to a man it is allowed to take a (new) wife if he has divorced a (previous) wife who sinned since a man is not restricted by the law as the woman is; for the husband is the head of his wife.”


The First Canonical Epistle of Our Holy Father Basil, Archbishop of Cæsarea in Cappadocia to Amphilochius, Bishop of Iconium.  

These canons of St. Basil’s are annotated by Zonaras, Balsamon and Aristenus, and of them there is also the Ancient Epitome which will be found in Beveridge (Synod., Tom. II., p. 47).  Johnson gives the date of these canons as later than the year 370.

(This Epistle, number cxxxviii., is found translated in Volume VIII. of the Second Series of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, p. 223 et seqq.)

Canon IX.

Our Lord is equal, to the man and woman forbidding divorce, save in case of fornication; but custom requires women to retain their husbands, though they be guilty of fornication.  The man deserted by his wife may take another, and though he were deserted for adultery, yet St. Basil will be positive, that the other woman who afterward takes him is guilty of adultery; but the wife is not allowed this liberty.  And the man who deserts an innocent wife is not allowed to marry.

The Second Canonical Epistle of the Same.

(This is found translated in the same volume last referred to, Epistle cxcix., p. 236 et seqq.)

Canon XXI.

A married man committing lewdness with a single woman, is severely punished as guilty of fornication, but we have no canon to treat such a man as an adulterer; but the wife must co-habit with such a one:  But if the wife be lewd, she is divorced, and he that retains her is [thought] impious; such is the custom, but the reason of it does not appear.

Canon XXXV.

If a woman leave her husband, and if it do upon inquiry appear, that she did it without reason, she deserves to be punished; but let him continue in communion.

Canon XLI.

A widow being at her own discretion, may marry to whom she will.


A woman dismissed from her husband, ought to remain unmarried, in my judgment.

The Third Epistle of the Same to the Same.

(Found in lib. cit., p. 255, et seqq. Epistle ccxvii. )


All incestuous conjunction, as adultery.

Canon LXIX.

A reader or minister lying with a woman he has only espoused, shall cease from his function one year; but if he have not espoused her, he shall [wholly] cease from his ministry.