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Pauline Privilege


The term used to express the right to dissolve the marriage bond, contracted between two unbaptized persons, after the baptism of one of the spouses and the refusal of the other spouse to cohabit peacefully. The term is based on the supposition that St. Paul grants this privilege in 1 Cor 7.1215, but it is rather a privilege granted by the Church through a broader interpretation of the Pauline text than this in itself allows. Paul teaches here that the Christian convert from paganism should not use baptism as a pretext for divorcing an unbelieving spouse (μ φιέτω); "but if the unbeliever departs, let him depart (χωριζέσθω)." The latter Greek verb refers merely to the desertion of the marital bed. When the Apostle adds in 1 Cor 7.15 that "a brother or sister [i.e., a Christian man or woman] is not under bondage in such cases," he means that the convert need not oppose the desertion of the unbelieving spouse. But he nowhere expressly states that the marriage bond is dissolved by such desertion or that the convert is free to contract another marriage. However, since the 4th century the majority of Catholic commentators have interpreted 1 Cor 7.15 to mean that the marriage bond between two unbaptized persons is dissolvable when the unbaptized spouse refuses peaceful cohabitation with the baptized spouse, and that it is actually dissolved when the baptized spouse contracts a sacramental marriage.

See Also: marriage, legislation (canon law).

Bibliography: p. dulau, "The Pauline Privilege: Is it Promulgated in the First Epistle to the Corinthians?" The Catholic Bible Quarterly 13 (1951) 146152.

[r. kugelman]

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