The writings of the Early Church Fathers neither support divorce nor condone spousal abuse. From the beginning, until now, divorce has only been permitted in cases of adultery. Separation to ensure the safety of the victim is of the highest importance for the church. This space allows for the violent spouse to repent, allow his rage to subside, and to learn new appropriate behaviors. In many cases concerning spousal abuse, adultery and fornication, have often been linked. Spousal abuse is an expression of inferiority and repressed anger. It is not uncommon for abusive men to compensate for their inadequacies by having extra-marital affairs, in essence to try to prove their "manhood." On the other hand, it is also not uncommon for a spouse having an extra-marital affair to also become abusive. Perhaps this occurs out of guilt, pressure from the other person (the paramour), justification of the sin, release of morals, intimate dissatisfaction with the spouse, and other matters causing personal struggles. In cases where there is an abusive spouse and the abuse is severe and prolonged despite extended separation and extensive intervention from the church, an annulment may be granted due to a spouse being unfit.
Violence is against all Christian principles. If someone cannot control himself, he may have disorders which prevent him from acquiring the necessary changes required to be a fit husband. When the church councils have investigated the case thoroughly and reach the conclusion of annulment, permission to remarry may be granted. Even when that it is the case, many victims of spousal abuse refuse to remarry, usually in fear of repetitive patterns. In any ecclesiastical decision, numerous documentation and councils are convened. It is not just a matter of sending the complainant to the assigned bishop and releasing all responsibility to him because the church operates in unity. There are layers of administrative investigations and documentations. This is for the best interest of the marital couple. If there is a way to resolve the conflict, the church allows for time to do so. Holy Matrimony is a sacrament and not merely a civil contract or a ceremony. We must be over-diligent, as much as possible, in ensuring that we have done everything we can possibly do to keep the family unit intact.
These are some excerpts from the early church fathers on marriage:
"Far be it for Christians to do evil deeds or that these deeds should enter their minds; for temperance dwells within them, self-restraint is practiced, monogamy is observed, chastity is guarded, injustice is exterminated, sin is rooted out, righteousness is exercised, law is administered, reverence is preserved, God is acknowledged, truth controls, grace guards, peace protects, the Holy Words guide, wisdom teaches, life directs, God reigns!"
St. Theophilus of Antioch
"Flee from base practices but preach more against them. Speak to my sisters that they love the Lord and be content with their husbands in body and in soul. In like manner, exhort my brothers in the name of Jesus Christ to love their wives as the Lord loved the Church."
St. Ignatius of Antioch
"If marriage was evil, God would not have made laws concerning it from the beginning, nor would He have called being fruitful with children a blessing. He so confirmed the law of marriage that by another law He forbids the action of a man who wants to dissolve his marriage apart from fornication."
St. Theoforet of Antioch, Bishop of Antioch
"Among us you can find uneducated people, artisans, and dear old mothers who would not be able to put into words the usefulness of their teaching, but by their deeds they demonstrate the usefulness of their principles. They do not repeat words learned by heart, but they show good deeds: when hit they do not hit back, when robbed they do not go to court, they give to those who ask, and they love their fellowmen as themselves."
Athenagoras, A Plea Regarding Christians
In cases where there is an abusive spouse, and the abuse is severe and prolonged despite extended separation and extensive intervention from the church, an annulment may be granted, if it is because a spouse being unfit psychologically. Violence is against all Christian principles. If someone cannot control himself, he may have disorders which prevent him from acquiring the necessary changes required to be a fit husband. When the church councils have investigated the case thoroughly and reach the conclusion of annulment (due to personality disorders or psychological diseases that started before marriage and were not disclosed before the marriage), permission to remarry may be granted. Even when that it is the case, many victims of spousal abuse refuse to remarry, usually in fear of repetitive patterns.