Melkite-rite Archbishop Elie Zoghbi, who set off a bombshell by telling the ecumenical council the Church should reconsider its ban on divorce in case of desertion and mental illness, issued a four-point answer to one of his chief critics.
Archbishop Zoghbi, patriarchal vicar for Egypt of Melkite-rite Patriarch Maximos IV Saigh of Antioch, originally spoke on the divorce question in the Sept. 29 council session. He cited writings of early Fathers of the Church — both Eastern and Western — in his support.
The following day, Switzerland’s Charles Cardinal Journet, a prominent theologian, denied that divorce had been sanctioned by the early Church. The Church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage is that of Christ Himself, he told the council. He said that divorce was admitted in the Eastern Church as a result of the law code issued by the Emperor Justinian I in the sixth century. But he held that the Church doctrine that marriage is indissoluble remained unaltered.
The outspoken Archbishop Zoghbi — who last February threatened to resign as Melkite patriarchal vicar in protest over Patriarch Maximos’ acceptance of membership in the College of Cardinals — immediately hit back at Cardinal Journet’s assertion that divorce in the Eastern Churches is a mere encroachment of civil law into ecclesiastical practice.
His statement said:
“1. It goes without saying that the Catholic communities of the East without exception have, in uniting themselves to Rome, followed the Roman Catholic discipline and practice on marriage.
“2. The Fathers and Doctors of the Eastern Church who laid the foundations of Christian doctrine and who constituted the overwhelming majority of the great ecumenical councils could not yield to political influences in interpreting as they did the words of Christ in Matthew, Chapter V and Chapter XIX; to present that would be to forget what the Universal Church owes to their learning and to their holiness.
“3. The Justinian Code, promulgated toward the middle of the sixth century and adopting Eastern discipline on marriage, could not in any way have influenced Origen, St. Basil, St. John Chrysostom and others who lived during a period ranging between 300 and 150 years before this code, which merely recorded the previous teaching and practice of the Churches of the East.
“4. The Churches of the East adopted this interpretation and this practice in favor of the innocent spouse long centuries before the separation from the Roman Church. Now this Church never condemned them during the long centuries of union and never had them condemned nor even disapproved by the ecumenical councils presided over by the representatives of the bishops of Rome, councils at which the Eastern and Western Churches sat together. This is the evident proof that the Roman Church never thought of contesting the legitimacy of the Oriental discipline.”