Over at Moore to the Point, Dr. Russell Moore has a terrific blog post about Pat Robertson's recent suggestion that a husband or wife could legitimately divorce an Alzheimer's-afflicted spouse and get remarried, on the premise that having Alzheimer's was a "kind of death."
I completely agree with Moore's assessment of Robertson's remark (which seemed to be made somewhat off-the-cuff, though is still dead wrong).
What I found particularly interesting, however, was the discussion that bubbled to the surface in the combox. As you can imagine, because many non-Catholic Christians do allow for divorce and remarriage in at least some circumstances, some commentators were forced to use more nuanced language when describing the category of exceptions into which Alzheimer's (to them) does not belong. (Of course, the problem with a house built on sand--people's private interpretations--is that there is no guarantee that more Christians in the future won't put Alzheimer's into the exception category.) In a nutshell, these commentators tried to prove that Alzheimer's was not an exception by rehearsing the standard definition of the exceptions that Protestants do allow (based on a certain reading of Matthew 19:9).
From my Catholic perspective, which allows for no exceptions at all, the possibility of at least some exceptions is really a game changer--one with serious implications for what/how/why marriage is and is not. In other words, it is a much easier argument to say that marriage is a bond created by God, and nothing man can do can put that bond asunder. Only death can do a husband and wife part. If marriage is truly forever, it can only be so based on God's real action on the lives of the spouses. They do not make themselves one; God does, and "what God has joined together..."
We can no more put marriage asunder by our sins than by any other action we can commit.
And, it is worth noting that the historic understanding of marriage and Jesus's prohibition of divorce and remarriage in any circumstance stretches back to the earliest Christians in the first centuries of the Church.
Those who admit exceptions, then, offer a radically different understanding of marriage: marriage, their position implies, IS something that can be rent asunder. Divorce from one's spouse IS possible. Man CAN choose to put their marriage asunder. God's divine action CAN be undone by man's decree.
Now, it is possible that two people presumed to be married were did not actually enter into sacramental marriage the day they made their vows. Shot gun weddings, for instance, do not effect a sacramental marriage. And the Church, in an act of love and mercy, does offer to consider the evidence that a marriage never took place in the first place. (Sadly, this process has been abused in some corners of the Church, and I pray for those people who have not taken the process seriously and have annulled perfectly valid marriages.) Still, it is possible for someone who has never truly been married to obtain a civil divorce and later enter into a true sacramental marriage. This could not be considered "remarriage," since that person had never before been married.
Moore's blog post, and the comments that follow, are worth the read. Here, for your convenience, were my two comments: