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 Part 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, 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 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 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)
(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.”
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Posts in this series
Part 1: Thomas Cranmer on divorce for abuse.
Part 2: Is this post. This post 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.
The Bible DOES allow divorce for domestic abuse – B Roberts
What about divorce? — one of our FAQ pages.