A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Puritans who said abuse was grounds for divorce

Abuse IS grounds for divorce. Most evangelical leaders are reluctant to say this outright today, but several eminent theologians In the sixteenth and seventeenth century said it. Today’s leaders need to take courage and follow their example.

Thomas Cranmer was the first to say it – see Pt 1 of this series Thomas Cranmer on divorce for abuse.

Theodore Beza, William Perkins and William Ames were Puritans who said abuse is grounds for divorce

Theodore Beza, disciple of John Calvin

Theodore Beza, 1570

…we know him also to be a deserter who does not refuse cohabitation, but obstinately demands impious conditions.

… another question occurs: what should the faithful spouse do when indeed cohabitation is not denied, but either hazard of life is incurred or something is either to be done or endured against the true religion. I respond that these two distinctions are to be observed.

First, either the unfaithful [spouse], whether intentionally or unwittingly, persecute the faithful spouse, or the persecution arises from some other direction.

If the former, the faithful spouse really has a suitable excuse for shunning her domestic enemy for no other reason than that she should consider her life and conscience, and I would decide in this case nothing other than if the unfaithful spouse himself had departed for another. To depart from someone and to drive the other away by threats or force are the same thing.

But if such persecution should assail [the faithful spouse] from some other direction, the faithful spouse should act at length more moderately than if she should cherish an enemy in her home and bosom.

Nor is its to be doubted that if the unfaithful spouse should attend the faithful with conjugal love, should provide for her life in every way, in this case the faithful spouse rather should bear whatever you will than that it should be her duty to abandon the unfaithful spouse.

But if the unfaithful spouse does not care as is right that the faithful spouse is in peril, no one does not see, I think, not only that he is a deserter, but also that he may be shunned with a good conscience as a traitor.
— for source of this quote, see footnote 1.

See UPDATE below about Theodore Beza.

Only three years after Beza wrote this, the Scottish Parliament in 1573 enacted legislation which allowed divorce for desertion. (see footnote 2)

William Perkins

William Perkins 1609

Like unto desertion is malicious and spiteful dealing of married folks one with another. Malicious dealing is, when dwelling together, they require of each other intolerable conditions … Here it may be demanded, what a believer should do, who is in certain and imminent danger, either of loss of life, or breach of conscience, if they both abide together.

If [this danger is] from the stranger, then the husband either takes upon him the defence of his believing wife, or not; if he does, then she ought to abide with him. If not, she may depart and provide for her own safety. Again if the husband threatens hurt, the believing wife may flee in this case; and it is all one, as if the unbelieving man should depart. For to depart from one, and drive one away by threat, are equivalent. (3)

William Ames

William Ames 1632

For if one party drive away the other with great fierceness and cruelty, there is cause of desertion, and he is to be reputed the deserter. But if he obstinately neglect, that necessary departure of the other avoiding the eminent danger, he himself in that plays the deserter. (4)

 

Footnotes

(1) Theodore Beza, De Repudiis et Divortiis, Tractationes Theologiae, 1570, vol. 2; cited on pp. 199-200 of the Presbyterian Church in America’s Position Paper on Divorce and Remarriage, issued at the Twentieth General Assembly, 1992. [paragraph breaks added for readability]

(2) Marriage and Divorce: a Report of the Study Panel of the Free Church of Scotland (Edinburgh: Free Church of Scotland 1988) 28; cited by David Clyde Jones in his paper The Westminster Confession on Divorce and Remarriage (Covenant Seminary Review, p. 21, n. 13.)

(3) William Perkins, Christian Oeconomie, 1609, p. 88; cited on p. 194 of the PCA Report (ibid.)
118 [spelling updated into modern English]

(4)  William Ames, Conscience with the Power and Cases Thereof, 1632;  cited on p. 197 of the PCA Report (ibid.) [spelling updated into modern English]

UPDATE relating to Theodore Beza added 16 Feb 2019.  Since some people don’t read comments on blogs, I am pasting here some words Ruth Magnusson Davis wrote in her comment on this post.

Beware of Theodore Beza. He was a fierce religious persecutor who taught that heretics should be killed (see his book ‘Concerning the punishment of heretics by the civil magistrate’). He also taught that magistrates (Puritan judges and executive officers) could rebel against superior powers and even kill their kings and queens, which teaching led to much civil disturbance and civil unrest. (See his book ‘Right of Magistrates,’ which was essentially Roman Catholic. The pope’s canon laws taught that the pope could lead a revolution.) This was completely contrary to Thomas Cranmer, who taught the complete obedience of subjects to their king, in the evil day and in the good.

In a great many ways, Beza taught contrary to Archbishop Cranmer. He despised Cranmer’s prayer book and wanted it outlawed in the Church. During the Puritan revolution, prayer books were publicly burned in St. Paul’s Square.

Also contrary to Thomas Cranmer (and also Martin Luther and William Tyndale) Beza fought against baptism by women, and wanted to “sharply punish” women who baptized infants. From his chair in the Geneva Academy, he inveighed against this in a 1566 letter to Bishop Grindal, complaining that it is “much grievouser [than the] most filthy superstitions, as crossing and kneeling at the Communicating of the Lord’s Supper,” and a “filthy error” which springs “from a gross ignorance of the matter of the sacrament.”

*** *** ***

Part 1 of this series: Thomas Cranmer on divorce for abuse.

This post (Part 2 of the series)  is giving you for free what you can read in Appendix 2 of my book Not Under Bondage: Biblical Divorce for Abuse, Adultery and Desertion.

Part 3: David Clyde Jones – a contemporary PCA theologian who said abuse is grounds for divorce

Part 4: Liam Goligher – a PCA theologian who says abuse is grounds for divorce

Further reading

The Hungarian Christians of 1562 had more sense than the No-Divorce-for-Abuse preachers today – Jeff Crippen

The Bible DOES allow divorce for domestic abuse – B Roberts

What about divorce? — one of our FAQ pages.

Calvinism And Domestic Violence: there’s a correlation but we can’t say Calvinism causes domestic violence

 

 

17 Comments

  1. Hello Sunshine

    What I notice in this series is that these 16th and 17th C. authors speak of individuals and their actions. It seems modern evangelical Christianity emphasizes instead roles and marriage-as-an-institution. I think to value abstract notions over individuals often does great harm.

    It is also refreshing to see these theologians talk plainly of reality and danger and the need to take action in light of them!

    • Finding Answers

      ^That.

  2. Beware of Theodore Beza. He was a fierce religious persecutor who taught that heretics should be killed (see his book ‘Concerning the punishment of heretics by the civil magistrate’). He also taught that magistrates (Puritan judges and executive officers) could rebel against superior powers and even kill their kings and queens, which teaching led to much civil disturbance and civil unrest. (See his book ‘Right of Magistrates,’ which was essentially Roman Catholic. The pope’s canon laws taught that the pope could lead a revolution.) This was completely contrary to Thomas Cranmer, who taught the complete obedience of subjects to their king, in the evil day and in the good.

    In a great many ways, Beza taught contrary to Archbishop Cranmer. He despised Cranmer’s prayer book and wanted it outlawed in the Church. During the Puritan revolution, prayer books were publicly burned in St. Paul’s Square.

    Also contrary to Thomas Cranmer (and also Martin Luther and William Tyndale) Beza fought against baptism by women, and wanted to “sharply punish” women who baptized infants. From his chair in the Geneva Academy, he inveighed against this in a 1566 letter to Bishop Grindal, complaining that it is “much grievouser [than the] most filthy superstitions, as crossing and kneeling at the Communicating of the Lord’s Supper,” and a “filthy error” which springs “from a gross ignorance of the matter of the sacrament.”

    I will inject here a personal note – not as an esteemed theologian, but a simple witness. My testimony will probably be rejected by many. But so be it. After I came to faith, as an adult, I was baptized by a woman. It was a simple ceremony in a freshwater lake. I was immersed in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and when I arose from the water, I knew the transforming power of the dove. It was unexpected. It was real. It was not my imagination, and I am not a liar or a fool. I can therefore testify that sacramental efficacy does not depend on the gender or any other quality appointed to the human instrument (though I entirely endorse the headship of men in the Church), but is by the power of God’s word only. Luther, Cranmer, and Tyndale had this right.

    I can also testify to the falsehood of Beza’s teaching. It is he who is grossly ignorant in the matter of the sacrament. Like a true Pharisee, he forbids that which is good. I thank God that my baptism happened the way it did, so that I may of a certainty know who is telling the truth, and who is persecuting the truth.

    • Finding Answers

      I believe your personal testimony, Ruth (pardon my familiarity of using only your first name).

      Over three decades ago, the Dean of my (then) church prayed for me. Though the Dean was not looking directly at me, I felt a breath pass over my head.

      It took me three decades to discover what I felt was the Holy Spirit. No one – including professing Christians – had a clue what happened when I described my experience to them.

      I learned the truth when the Holy Spirit Himself led me to the understanding.

    • Ruth, thanks for your very interesting comment.

      I did not know about women baptising infants in the early years of protestantism. Thanks for telling us about that. I shocks me to hear that Beza claimed that women baptising infants was a “filthy error” much more grievous than the most filthy superstitions such as crossing and kneeling at the Communicating of the Lord’s Supper”. Firstly, I don’t think kneeling at the communion supper is a filthy superstition. Secondly, many infants died in infancy in those days before modern medicine and hygiene. And many people had been taught that if a person died without having been baptised, they would go to hell. So it was understandable that women in the early days of protestantism would baptise infants. For Beza to rail against that shows he had a harsh spirit indeed. It suggests he had what we would call today a hyper-Patriarchal mindset.

      • Finding Answers

        Barb commented “…..many infants died in infancy in those days before modern medicine and hygiene.”

        I was baptised in the hospital in early infancy, during an almost-deadly illness they had not expected me to survive.

    • Having agreed with you Ruth about your concerns re Theodore Beza, I want to add that one of the reasons I wrote this post (and this series) is to provoke male leaders in Presbyterian and Reformed churches. I know there are some men in those circles who believe that abuse IS grounds for divorce, but they are not saying so publicly. They are sitting on their hands. They say to me things like: “I”m waiting to say what I think. Later I’ll publish my paper. Later I’ll take more of a stand in my Presbytery. Later [when the political climate changes a bit in my denomination] I’ll say something.”

      This attitude deeply disappoints me. While they wait, while they sit on their hands, victims of abuse are still suffering. Don’t they care enough to stand up and face the invective and shunning that we victims face?

      I want to urge these men to stop being so timid. By publishing some examples of ’eminent’ men from previous centuries of protestantism who said that abuse is grounds for divorce, I hope to give these men courage to take a stand publicly and use their power and influence to make the doctrine of Abuse For Divorce a matter of vital importance in the current church. I am giving these men ammunition they can use to take a public stand against the hidebound men who share leadership with them.

  3. Seeing Clearly

    I appreciate learning historical teachings. It helps to know another time when there was another perspective of humanity.

    I give myself permission, now, to reject unreasonable teachings.

    There is a fine line between looking forward, leaving the past behind and looking back in my life, longing to make sense of it. I can’t say there is a balance.

    Historical (centuries ago) must be retaught, not silenced forever.

    There is much confusion in my head just now so that I can’t express correctly, but I am thankful for this post.

  4. Finding Answers

    Seeing Clearly wrote “There is a fine line between looking forward, leaving the past behind and looking back in my life, longing to make sense of it. I can’t say there is a balance.”

    As a victim / survivor of abuse, as a person experiencing complex PTSD, the past can unexpectedly become the present (triggering).

    Leaving the past behind in the sense of becoming a regenerate Christian is a VERY different thing.

    I think, many times, professing Christians overlook the difference.

    • Yes, many times professing Christians overlook that difference. And because they do they get into all sorts of muddles and lead others into all sorts of muddles.

      • Seeing Clearly

        I enjoy ‘words’. ‘Muddles’ is an excellent word for expression in this moment.

  5. Kind of Anonymous

    I am enjoying reading these accounts of Puritans who held that abuse was grounds for divorce. In what reading I have done by Puritans, I have noticed that they seem to have possessed fine discernment; there is a spiritual sensitivity in their approach to God that makes many Puritan authored articles full of substance (rather than just the flash and sizzle of some modern stuff).

    However I still find myself wondering how MUCH of these things like harshness and cruelty is enough for a relationship to cross over from “sometimes my husband can be a bit of a jerk” to “my husband is actually unrepentant unbelieving and refusing to cease from ongoing sin against me and in his life with God.” I am not sure what the foggy blind spot is that I seem to be struggling with and have a huge question mark over. I wonder, if for instance, an incident of verbal violence in which I was yelled and bellowed at and cruel things were said were to occur and I were to give some grace and a second chance. At first he is apologetic and says it will never happen again, and acknowledges that he transferred all of his issues with someone else onto me.

    But of course it happens again. And then a third time. Additionally he is a major unreasonable jerk to deal with, attempts to make me abandon my teenager, treats her like she can do no right and his kids can do no wrong and he makes an agreement with me over something sensitive and significant and then treacherously breaks it in a hateful manner. He goes through long stretches of unemployment that while they may have begun with a legitimate reason, continued on when he was well able to work for a long time, putting us into serious financial troubles. These are just some of the things that happened.

    By the time it’s happened say six times, he now feels as if I DESERVE this treatment and am the cause of his blow ups. What if the third time it happened, I had said something like “I gave you a second and third chance where this was concerned and now you are abusing it and me. I am sorry but I cannot remain married to you any longer, you are clearly not dealing with whatever is the cause of the problem and not willing to go for counseling so we are through”.

    In actual fact I endured years of this from him but I guess I wonder, when could I have actually said “this is abusive and ended it” once married? I ought to have ended it when we were dating and he displayed some nut job behaviour.

    • Finding Answers

      Kind Of Anonymous commented “However I still find myself wondering how MUCH of these things like harshness and cruelty is enough for a relationship to cross over……:”

      Seeing Clearly commented “I enjoy ‘words’. ‘Muddles’ is an excellent word for expression in this moment.”

      I am, once again, borrowing words from other commenters. Not because I have none of my own, but because I found words in someone else’s writing.

      Hello Sunshine commented “What I notice in this series is that these 16th and 17th C. authors speak of individuals and their actions…..”

      (Bold added by me.)

    • Quoting from KOA’s comment:

      I still find myself wondering how MUCH of these things like harshness and cruelty is enough for a relationship to cross over from “sometimes my husband can be a bit of a jerk” to “my husband is actually unrepentant unbelieving and refusing to cease from ongoing sin against me and in his life with God.”

      … By the time it’s happened say six times, he now feels as if I DESERVE this treatment and am the cause of his blow ups. What if the third time it happened, I had said something like “I gave you a second and third chance where this was concerned and now you are abusing it and me. I am sorry but I cannot remain married to you any longer, you are clearly not dealing with whatever is the cause of the problem and not willing to go for counseling so we are through”.

      … I endured years of this from him but I guess I wonder, when could I have actually said “this is abusive and ended it” once married?

      Let us revisit what Don Hennessy says about men who abuse their female intimate partners. He says that the abuse begins from Day One. He says the male abuser’s mindset and intention (to select and entrap a female partner to abuse long-term) is present in the abuser’s mind even before the relationship begins.

      However many times the woman has given the abusive man second / third/ sixth / umpteenth chances, that does not make the abusive man feel that she deserved it. Her tolerance and long-suffering does not alter his mindset that she DESERVES to be treated that way, because the abusive man had that mindset even before the relationship began. Her tolerance and long-suffering only gives him information about how easy or less easy it will be for him to continue to re-groom her and re-abuse her, and how much he might be able to escalate his abuse and get away with it when and if she starts to dis-attach herself from his mind control.

  6. Kind of Anonymous

    Hi Barb thank you for addressing this. The odd thing in my relationship is that I initiated the relationship. I am thinking to somewhere on the blog where a comparison is made between pedophiles and abusive men in terms of how they think. One thing I’ve heard that is true of abusers is that there are the covert and the overt types. The overt guys actively seek out victims. Like the pedophile who sits outside a playground or schoolyard or who gets himself a job as a scoutmaster. The covert guys are perhaps too cowardly and lacking in confidence or self esteem to do so but if one falls into their lap or they figure they have some leeway or opportunity in the situation, they seem to then switch gears and go for control.

    When we were first seeing each other, at first he somewhat played the victim, the poor broken, bitter man who’d been done wrong by every woman in his life. He claimed that women were all “after something”. He blamed his ex wife for everything. Nothing was his fault. I don’t think it was necessarily an act but rather how he truly saw himself. I was pursuing him for a relationship. When he decided that he was willing, that seemed to be when he switched gears and began trying to knock me down. There were incidents of bizarre verbal abuse, almost right away.

    Often in his attacks on me I would be accused of being controlling, although I figured out that what was most likely behind that was that he was trying to attain control and dominance. So even though I initiated the relationship, had some daddy issues and could be a bit demanding, and no doubt had some intense issues myself, he came already packaged with a temper, a drinking problem and all the other related stuff. I didn’t cause those things but I am guessing that perhaps we pursue the familiar without realizing what it is that we are really familiar with. Still working on understanding.

  7. Kind of Anonymous

    Yes, that’s the post I was thinking of, the word psychephile was what I remembered, thank you Reaching Out.

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