A practice of remarriage after the death of one’s spouse. In the event of the dissolution of Christian marriage through the death of either spouse, the surviving partner may, if desired, be married again in the church. Nevertheless, it is not strongly recommended by the church, in harmony with the Apostle Paul’s teaching.
The early church fathers expressed their qualified approval of digamy and maintained the superiority of widowhood over second marriage. Within this general framework, they had varying degrees of reservation. Tertullian (c. 160-220) addressed An Exhortation to Chastity to a friend who had been recently widowed, discouraging him from remarriage and explaining that, although second marriage was tolerated by the church, it was merely an objectionable expedient to safeguard the weak against temptation. Saint Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 315-386), however, shows more leniency towards digamists: “Those who are once married, let them not hold in contempt those who have accommodated themselves to a second marriage. Continence is a good and wonderful thing; but still, it is permissible to enter upon a second marriage.” (Catechetical Lectures 4.26). Saint Ambrose of Milan (c. 339-397) strikes a note of reserve in his attitude towards digamy: “What we suggest by way of counsel we do not command as a precept . . . . We do not prohibit second marriages, but neither do we recommend them” (The Widows 11.68).
Digamy is thus considered to be less meritorious than the first marriage, as is reflected in the following features: (1) the seventh canon of the Council of Neocaesarea (315) prohibits priests from attending the marriage feast (see Cummings, 1957, p. 512); (2) the Coptic service of digamy omits the crowning of the spouse who has been married before, and includes a petition for forgiveness and absolution; (3) penance was imposed on a digamist in the early church; (4) a digamist cannot be ordained to any rank of the presbytery or diaconate. According to Canon 1 of the First Council of Valence (374): “None after this synod . . . be ordained to the clergy from among digamists, or the husbands of previously married women.”
- Cummings, D. The Rudder (Pedalion). Chicago, 1957. Fulton, J. Index Canonum, pp. 29, 294. New York, 1982.
- Habib Jirjis. Asrar al-Kanisah al-Sab‘ah, 2nd ed., p. 173. Cairo, 1950.
- Ludlow, J. M. “Digamy.” In Dictionary of Christian Antiquity, ed. 1908. Smith and S. Cheetham. London, 1908.
- Persival, H. R. Excursus on Second Marriages, called Digamy. In A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, 2d ser., Vol. 14, ed. P. Schaff and H. Wace. Grand Rapids, Mich., 1971.