Divorce, adultery and re-marriage were issues frequently addressed by church officials. The Spanish Council of Elvira, which produced one of the earliest sets of canons (c. 305/6), proposed lifelong excommunication for a woman who left her husband without cause and married another man (c. 8). If a woman abandoned her husband because of his adultery and married another man, she was allowed communion only on her deathbed (c. 9). Stringent penalties were imposed on men and women who committed adultery: if the offence occurred only once, five years of penance were imposed on both sexes (c. 69); if the man was a multiple offender, he was excluded from communion until the hour of death (c. 47). Although Basil of Caesarea prescribed a penance of fifteen years for a man or woman convicted of adultery, the Council in Trullo modified this to seven years (c. 87).
One of the difficulties church officials encountered was the double standard that existed on the issue of male and female extra-marital activity. Roman law, which defined adultery as a crime committed by a married woman (or by a man with a married woman), required husbands to divorce their adulterous wives, but did not allow women to divorce their husbands on the grounds of infidelity. Basil of Caesarea pointed out the inconsistency ofthis practice but did not challenge it: 'Therefore the wife will receive her husband when he returns from fornication, but the husband will dismiss the polluted woman from his house. Even though the logic in these matters is not easy, this is the custom' (c. 21).6 Other Christians, however, strongly opposed this 'custom', among them Basil's friend, Gregory of Nazianzus: 'I do not accept this legislation; I do not approve this custom. They who made the law were men, and therefore their legislation is hard on women' (Or. 37.6).
Re-marriage after the death of a spouse was also a practice which church officials sought to restrict. Although the apostle Paul had allowed the widowed to remarry (1 Corinthians 7.9), many Christians in the first three centuries disapproved of the practice. The second-century apologist Athenagoras, for example, regarded a second marriage as merely 'well veiled adultery' (euprepes . . . moicheia; Leg. 33); his sentiments were echoed by later rigorists, such as Ter-tullian. By the fourth century re-marriage was permitted under church law, although it was not highly regarded. Early in the fourth century, the Council of Neocaesarea forbade presbyters to be present at the weddings of digamists (c. 7). In his canonical letters Basil imposed varying periods of penance on
6 According to Basil (c. 58), the penalty for adultery by a man or woman was fifteen years of penance, whereas the penance for fornication was seven. If a married man had sexual relations with an unmarried woman, he was guilty of fornication, but not adultery
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