By Daniel Larison

They may have been unaware of it, but Matt and Ross have stumbled upon some old Orthodox Church wisdom in their rejection of fourth marriages.  While even second marriages were discouraged by the Orthodox Church, particularly in the Byzantine era, the canons did permit some flexibility and oikonomia in practice, and third marriages were allowed in extreme cases where a couple could produce no heir or in the event of a spouse's death.  Fourth marriages, however, were utterly beyond the pale, and this applied to the emperor just as it did to everyone else. 

Leo VI had married three times without producing any offspring, which threw the succession into doubt, but the canons strictly forbad marrying a fourth time for any reason.  The emperor's concubine, Zoe Karbonopsina, gave birth to the future heir, Constantine, but even this did not lead to a compromise, but instead resulted in the emperor being banned from the Great Church.  Once Patriarch Nicholas Mystikos, who had opposed the marriage, had been deposed, oikonomia prevailed again, but the ensuing rivalry between the factions of the two patriarchs disrupted ecclesiastical and political life in Constantinople for more than a decade.

Cross-posted at Eunomia

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.