Virtuous and Vicious Acts: The Ethical Dilemma of an Abusive Marriage
Can friendships be broken or should they remain glued together forever, even when that glue begins to dry and crack? Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle divided friendship into three categories: a relationship based on utility, one based on pleasure, and a perfect friendship of goodness.1 In the case of friendships for utility and those based on surface pleasures, it is only natural that such relationships dissolve once their usefulness has concluded. Even in the case of the highest form of friendship, that of goodness, the relationship can end if moral inequality is found to be interfering with the bond. Thomas Aquinas echoed this sentiment when he wrote:
As the Philosopher observes (Ethic. ix. 3), when our friends fall into sin, we ought not to deny them the amenities of friendship, so long as there is hope of their mending their ways … When, however, they fall into very great wickedness, and become incurable, we ought no longer to show them friendliness.2
However, according to the Catholic Church, marriage—which is the ultimate form of friendship—is indissoluble. Regarding the marital union, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “the marriage bond has been established by God himself in such a way that a marriage concluded and consummated between baptized persons can never be dissolved” (CCC 1640). Additionally, the Code of Canon Law clearly states that “a marriage that is ratum et consummatum can be dissolved by no human power and by no cause, except death.”3 How, then, can we reconcile Aristotle’s philosophy on friendship, expanded by St. Thomas Aquinas, with the teachings of the Church regarding marriage?
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