Q. 1. What does "Divine Law" mean in reference to impediments?
A. 1. The Church, as expressed in its Canon Law, teaches that there are 12 impediments to a Sacrament of Marriage; these are commonly called Diriment Impediments. Diriment is a word that comes from the Latin dirimens, which means separating. Thus a Diriment impediment is one that separates the couple (or better put, it causes them to be unable to be joined). Of these impediments, three are based on Divine Law. They come from God; if these impediments are present, they are not dispensable, even by the Pope. Another three are deemed as “reserved”; this means they can only be dispensed by the Pope (the Holy See). The remaining six are dispensable by Church authority in the person of the Bishop.
The Church has the big three non-dispensable impediments, to wit: impotence, prior marriage and consanguinity. Each of these impediments emanate from Divine Law (i.e., God said so).
• Impotence: Impotence is the inability to, by natural means, complete the marital act. It prevents the marriage from ever being consummated, thus no marriage can be contracted or consented to. This is not to be confused with sterility, which is not an impediment at all. A sterile man can still complete the marital act and thus can consummate the marriage.
• Prior Marriage: If you have been married, and that marriage has not been declared null, commonly referred to as an “annulment,” by the Church, you are not free to marry. That marital bond, if deemed valid, and not able to be declared null, prevents any new marriage from occurring.
• Consanguinity: Consanguinity is a fifty-dollar word that means blood relationship. In the direct line (father-daughter, grandfather-granddaughter, mother-son, grandmother-grandson), marriage is never allowed. There are also non-direct lines of relationship; there are stringent rules governing these, too. Generally speaking, marriage is not permitted by those up to (and including) “the fourth-degree of consanguinity” (or as it might be put in common English: you can’t marry your first cousin or anyone closer in blood relation. In terms of these non-direct lines, the Church breaks it down this way: the second degree of consanguinity refers to brothers/sisters; the third degree refers to uncles/nieces and aunts/nephews; and the fourth-degree refers to first cousins. Beyond this point marriage is permissible.
[Source: Church of Holy Cross, http://holycrossdover.org]