Teachings from the Ancient Church Fathers


The purpose of this study is NOT to prove one point or disprove another. Rather, as the apostles left them writings which proved authoritative, they also left behind practices which were preserved by the ancient church and which, therefore, should be as authoritative as the writings they left behind. The particular study focuses on marriage, especially the topic of remarriage.

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes come from the AnteNicene/Nicene Fathers, volume, page #'s and section (if applicable).


Shepherd of Hermas (late first century or early 2nd century): "But if the husband know that his wife has gone astray, and if the woman does not repent, but persists in her FORNICATION, and yet the husband continues to live with her, he also is guilty of herh crime, and a sharer in her adulter.' And I said to him, 'What then, sir, is the husband to do, if his wife continue in her vicious practices?' And he said, 'The husband should put her away, and remain by himself. But if he put his wife away and marry another, HE ALSO COMMITS ADULTERY" (Commandment Fourth, chap. 1 or 2:21:co. 4/1).

Ambrose of Milan (333-397): "'If any man be without reproach the husband of one wife.' So then he who is without blame the husband of one wife comes within the rule for undertaking the priestly office; he, however, who has married agin has no guilt of pollution, but is disqualified for the priestly prerogative" (Letters LXIII:63 or PN10:466:63).

Jerome (347-420):

  1. "1. . . .Writing in Titus the apostle says: 'For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain presbyters in every city, as I had appointed thee: if any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly.

    2. . . . Why do you bring forward A CUSTOM WHICH EXISTS IN ONE CITY ONLY? Why do you oppose to the laws of the Church a paltry exception which has given rise to arrogance and pride? The rarer anything is the more it is sought after. . . .

    Of the names presbyter and bishop the first denotes age, the second rank. . . . the word bishops includes presbyters also." Letters CXLVI 1, 2 or PN6:288-289:CXLVI 1, 2.

  2. "Now again, he compares monogamy with digamy, and as he [Paul] had subordinated marriage to virginity, so he makes second marriages inferior to first . . . He allows second marriages, but to such persons as wish for them and are not able to contain . . . For it is better to know asingle husband, though he be asecond or third, than to have many paramours; that is, it is more tolerable for a woman to prostitute herself to one man than to many. . . . For where there are more husbands than one the proper idea of a husband, who is a single person, is destroyed. . . . What the holiness of second marriage is, appears from this--that a person twice married cannot be enrolled in the ranks of the clergy, and as to Apostle tells Timothy, 'Let none be enrolled as a widow under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man,' . . . And at the same time, consider that she who has had two husabnds, even though she be a widow, decrepit, and in want, is not a worthy recipient of the Church's funds. . . . The first Adam was married once: the second was unmarried. Let he supporters of second marriages shew us as their leader a third Adam who was twice married. . .. The Apostle was forced to choose many things which he did not lie. He circumcised Timothy, and shaved his own head, practized going barefoot" (Against Jovinianus Book I, 14 or PN6:358-359:I:14).
Leo the Great (440-461):
    "For it is well known that the husbands of widows have attained to the priesthood: certain, too, who have had several wives, and have led a life given up to all licentiousness, have had all facilities put in their way, and been admitted to the Sacred Order, contrary to that utterance of the blessed Apostle, in which he proclaims and says to such, 'the husband of one wife' and contrary to that precept of the ancient law which says by way of caution: 'Let the priest take a virgin to wife, not a widow, not a divorced woman'" (Lev. 21:13, 14). Literal Latin words: unius uxoris virum (LettersIV:III or PH12:3:IV:III; see also notes 9 and 1.)

    "For as the Apsotle says that among other rules for election he shall be ordained bishop who is known to have been or to be 'the husband of one wife,' this command was always held so sacred that the same conditon was understood as necessary to be observed even in the wife of the priest-elect: lest she should happen to have been married to another man before she entered into wedlock with him, even though her himself had had no other wife. . . . the statutes of God's law as well, whereby it is clearly laid down that a priest is to marry a virgin, and that she who is to be the wife of a priest is not to know another husband? For even then in the priests was prefigured the Spirit marriage of Christ and His Church: so that since 'the man is the head of the woman,' the spouses of the Word may learn to know no other man byut Christ, who did rightly choose her only, loves her only, and takes none but her into His alliance. If then even in teh Old Testament this kind of marriage among preists is adhered to, how much more ought we who are placed under the grace of the Gospel to conform to the Apostle's precepts: so that though a man be found endowed with good character, and furnished with holy works, he may nevertheless in no wise ascend either to the grade of deacon, or the dignity of the presbytery, or to the highest rank of the bishopric, if it has been spread abroad either that he himself is not the husband of one wife, or that his wife is not the wife of one husband" (Letters, XII:III or PN12:13:XII:III).


Tertullian (155-225):

    "But Christ prohibits divorce, saying, "Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery; and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband, also committeth adultery.' In order to forbid divorce, he makes it unlawful to marry a woman that has been put away. . . .Divorce, therefore, when justly deserved, has even in Christ a defender. So that Moses for the future must be considered as being confirmed by Him since he prohibits divorce in the same sense as Chrsit does, if any unchastity should occur in the wife. For in the Gospel of Matthew he says, 'Whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery.' He also is deemed equally of adultery, who marries a woman put away by her husband. The Creator, however, except on account of adultery, doeos not put asunder what He Himself joined together, the same Moses in another passage enacting that he who had married after violence to a damsel, should henceforth not have it in his power to put away his wife" (Against Marcion chap. 34 or 3:404-405:34.) The passage from Deut. 2228-29: "If a man finds a girl who is a virgin, who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her and they are discovered, then the man who lay with her shall give to the girl’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall become his wife because he has violated her; he cannot divorce her all his days."

    "A divorced woman cannot even marry legitimately . . . For let us see what marriage is in the eye of God; and thus we shall learn what adultery equally is. Marriage is (this): when God joins 'two into one flesh;' or else, finding (them already) joined in the same flesh, has given His seal to the conjunction" (On Monogamy, chap. 9 or 4:66:9).

    "while prohibiting divorce, he uses the Lord's precept against adultery as an instrument for providing, in place of divorce, either perseverance in widowhood, or else a reconciliation of peace" (On Modesty chap. 16 or 4:92:16).


Athenagoras (176-180 AD): "'For whosoever puts awya his wife,' says He, 'and marries another, commits adultery;' not permitting a man to send her away whose virginity he has brought to an end, nor to marry again. For he who deprives himself of his first wife, even though she be dead, is a cloaked adulterer, resisting the hand of God, because in the beginning God made one man and one woman, and dissolving the stricted union of flesh with flesh, formed for the intercourse of the race" (A Plea for Christians, 33 or 1:146-147:33).

Julian, Bishop of Neapolis (381-394)/AC: "But we do not permit any one of the clergy to take to wife either a courtesan, or a servant, or a widow, or one that is divorced, as also the law says. Let the deaconess be a pure virgin; or, at the least, a widow who has been but once married, faithful; and well esteemed" (Section III, xvii or 7:III:xvii).


Methodius (260-312 AD--martyred in Diocletian persecution of 312): "for what reason should the apostle, calling these things to remembrance, and guiding us, as I opine, into the way fo the Spirit, allegorize the history of Adam and Evee as having a reference to Christ and the Church." He will go into greater detail allegorizing Adam/Eve and Christ/Church (The Banquet of the Tne Virgins, III chap. 1 or 6:317:III, chap. 1).

Methodius: "we must now examine carefully the apostle's language respecting men who have lost their wieves, adn women who have lost their husbands, and what he declares on this subject. . . . For, taking himself as a notable example, in order to stir them up to emulation, he challenged his hearers to this state of life, teaching that it was better that a man who had been bound to one wife should henceforth remain single, as he also did. But if, on the other hand, this hould be a matter of difficulty to any one, on account of the strength of animal passion, he allows that one who is in such a condiciton may, 'by permission,' contract a second marriage; not as though he expressed the opinion that a second marriage was in itself good, but judging it better than burning" (The Banquet of the Tne Virgins, Discourse III chap. 12 or 6:321:III, chap. 12).


Basil (444-468): "The woman who has been abandoned by her husband, ought, in my judgment, to remain as she is. The Lord said, 'If any one leave his wife, saying for the cause of fornication, he causeth her to commit adultery;' thus, by calling her adulteress, He excludes her from intercourse with another man. For how can the man being guilty, as having caused adultery, and the woman, go without blame, when she is called adulteres by the Lord for having intercourse with another man?" (Letter CXCIX (Canonica Secunda):XLVIII or PN8:240:CXCIX:XLVIII).


Clement of Alexandria (150-215): "We honor celibate chastity, and estee, them blest to whom this is God's gift. We also admire a single marriage, and the dignity which pertains to one marriage only; admitting, nevertheless, that we ought to compassionate others, and to bear one another's burdens, lest any one, when he thinks he stands, should himself also fall. The apostle enjoins, with respect to a second marriage, 'If thou art tempted by concupiscence, resort to a lawful wedlock.'" (Elucidations, I or 2:402-403:I).

Origen of Alexandria, Egypt (185-254): "'Whosoever shall put away his own wife, saving for the cause of fornication, maketh her an adulteress.' For confessedly he who puts away his wife when she is not a fornicator, makes her an adulteress, so far as it lies with him, for if, 'when teh husband is lilving she shall be called an adulteress if she be joined to another ma;' and when by puttin gher away, he gives to her the excuse of a second marriage, very plainly in this way he makes her an adulteress. . . . But as a woman is an adulteress, even though she seem to be married to a man, while the former husband is still living, so also the man who seems to marry her who has been put away, does not so much marry her as commit adultery with her according to the declaration of our Saviour" (Commentary on Matthew 24 or 9:511:24).


African Code (419): "Canon CII, Of those who put away their wives or husbands, that so they remain It seemed good that according to evangelical and apostolical discipline a man who had been put away from his wife, and a woman put away from her husband should not be married to another, but should remain, or else be reconciled the one to the other; but if they spurn this law, they shall be forced to do penance, coverning which case we must petition that an imperial law be promulgated" (African Code, Canon CII or PN14:493:Canon CII).