• A brief consideration on the sacramental nature of marriage
The Catholic understanding of marriage is that which is according to the mind of Christ. Christ raised marriage to the status of a sacrament. That is why He taught that it is appropriate for one man, one wife, and not one man, more than one wife. He, then, on this ground teaches that if a man divorces his wife, he makes her to be in risk of adultery, while He himself also tends same. He said this because divorce does not dissolve marriage, and since the validly contracted marriage is intact, nothing can dissolve it except death. This is called ‘ratum tantum’ . Second to this, Jesus’ teaching that one man is only allowed to marry one wife shows that monogamy is what God stands for, just as Monotheism is what we profess and not polytheism.
It follows that: First, three parties cannot wed themselves but only two. The man cannot profess fidelity to two ladies while both of them profess to him alone. This is because God knows that naturally, it is not acceptable to have a divided love. Hence, there is possibility that while both women pretend to love the husband as a wives, they in reality love him as enemies to each other. Are we to call this an attraction or distraction?! Second, the question of “second wife” or “second husband” is only possible when and only when she or he is the “only wife” or “only husband” respectively. The meaning of this is from a twofold dimension. First, is the case of a marriage that was invalid for reasons of deceit from any of the parties, or grave reasons hidden from one party, only to be discovered later in marriage (for example, a partner being a cultist or ritualist etc). Here, the marriage never existed, but was only a _nudum pactum_ (naked promise = null and void). Hence, second wife or husband here becomes proper only in the context of one right married in a right way. The theology of taking one rib from man to form a woman says something about the Christian understanding of marriage.
Two ribs were not taken but one. It remains one rib, even if a man takes another wife after the death of the first one, it doesn’t mean his rib is disfigured, but that he is only qualified to maintain one rib at a time. Someone said if na two or three ribs were taken, men no go gree pay bride price. Thus, to have two women as “wives” is not in tandem with the mind of Christ because: 1. one is sacramentally wedded, while the other is not and cannot because the cohabitation with the man is but a concubinage, a plagiarism of marriage. 2. The wedding of the second wife, even if done as traditional marriage, it can never be accepted by the Church because the bride price is not considered by the Church, given that the valid marriage of the first wife suffers by its presence.
The second instance is the case of death of a husband or wife which means that the bond of marriage is no more. At this juncture, to call a woman a “second wife” or a man “second husband” simply shows that she is the “next or second wife” or “next or second husband” after the first one, but married “only” in monogamous context. Also to be noted is that the Church’s understanding is that a man and a woman are husband and wife only when they have validly fulfilled the conditions of _ratum tantum_ mentioned above. Therefore, anything contrary to it or the question of paying bride price of second wife when the validly married wife is still alive is to be in an offside position. The VAR has already spotted the offside out before it is been committed.
• Martin Nchedo Umeatuegbu is an alumnus of Catholic Institute of West Africa (CIWA), Port Harcourt. His email is: alphonsomariomartine@ gmail.com