Marriage cluster

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CAMBRIDGE DICTIONARY OF CHRISTIANITY. Daniel Patte, General Editor, in press (December 2009) Copyright © Cambridge University Press


Marriage, Theology of, in Western Churches

Marriage, Ceremony of, in Western Churches

Marriage, Theology of, and Ceremony in Eastern Orthodoxy

Marriage, Theology and Practice of, in Asia

Marriage, Theology and Practice of, in John Calvin’s Geneva

Marriage Annulment in the Roman Catholic Church

See also Family* Cluster

Marriage, Theology of, in the Western Churches. Since the time of Jesus, Christian marriage has been distinguished by its strong emphasis on mutual consent, permanence, and sanctity. In medieval Europe, the sacramental* status of marriage resulted in an assumption of legal jurisdiction by church courts, triggering many conflicts between canonical formulations based on these values and traditional notions of familial and communal control. In the sixteenth century, Protestants attempted to resolve such problems by redefining the nature of marriage’s validity as well as rejecting the married estate’s long-established spiritual inferiority to virginity. By the modern era, legal jurisdiction over marriage passed to secular authorities in all countries with large Christian populations. Nevertheless, the ancient values of free consent, sexual fidelity, and indissolubility are still proclaimed by all modern Christian denominations.

Since the early church, Christian marriage shared many characteristics with its Jewish, Roman, and Germanic counterparts, most notably the goals of establishing an exclusive sexual relationship and of producing legitimate heirs. Only Roman law, however, put equal emphasis on the free consent of both parties, although Romans did not recognize the indissolubility of the union in the same way nor consider the covenant a spiritual estate as Christians did. Following Jesus’ reported pronouncements (Matt 5: 31-32, 19:3-6, 18; Mark 10: 2-12; Luke 16:18), Christians rejected divorce*—except possibly in cases of adultery (Matt 19:3-9) or the so-called Pauline privilege for spouses of hostile unbelievers (1 Cor 7:15)—and they permitted marriage of any two adults, regardless of differences in social status. At the same time, Christians since the time of Paul also displayed a pronounced preference for celibacy* and virginity* over marriage, allowing the latter only because of the necessary legitimate outlet for sinful sexual urges (1 Cor 7). Church fathers consistently rejected the Gnostics’ equating of marriage with fornication itself, but with the growth of asceticism* in the third and fourth centuries, the negative characterization of marriage as a remedium became even more pronounced. Even Augustine* (354-430), who wrote extensively about the “triple goods” of marriage—offspring (proles), fidelity (fides), and permanency (sacramentum)—acknowledged that the estate belonged to the post-Lapsarian “City of Man” rather than the “City of God” and remained decidedly inferior to virginity and chastity. Virtually all Christian writers until the high Middle Ages placed the greatest emphasis on the procreative function of marriage (cf. Gen 1:28).

During the Middle Ages, both the Eastern and Western churches continued to teach the consensual, “sacramental,” and indissoluble nature of marriage, with varying degrees of social impact. Both also expected church approval, but in the Byzantine church this entailed a formal rite, while in the west the requirement was interpreted as a priest’s subsequent blessing and was rarely enforced at that. The turning point in Western Europe came during the twelfth century, with the writings of canonists Gratian* (d. 1159?) and Peter Lombard* (c1100-60). Though both agreed on the importance of uncoerced vows of consent between the couple, they differed on the point at which a marriage became valid. As a compromise, the lawyer pope Alexander III (r. 1159-81) decreed that “words of present consent” (“I take you”) were sufficient to establish a valid marriage but that “words of future consent” or engagement (“I will take you”) required consummation for validity. Later, Canon 51 of Lateran* IV (1215) reaffirmed the sacramental nature of matrimony (based especially on the Vulgate’s translation of Eph 5:32) and added a stricter requirement of publicity in the form of three successive weekly banns, and the presence of at least two witnesses and a priest at the wedding as a witness (the ministers were the couple themselves). About the same time, new diocesan courts, known as officialities, assumed jurisdiction over questions of marriage vows, deciding questions of validity based on canon* law.

Martin Luther* and other Protestant reformers of the early sixteenth century objected to the Catholic church’s marriage theology and law on several grounds. Most fundamentally, following the scholarship of Valla (1407-57) and Erasmus* (1469-1536), they rejected the scriptural basis for declaring marriage a sacrament, arguing that a better translation for Eph. 5:32 would be “mystery.” Accordingly, the Roman church’s claims to jurisdiction were considered contrived means of raising money through charges for dispensations from manufactured legal impediments to marriage. All of these “abominations,” Luther argued in his “Babylonian Captivity of the Church,” defiled rather than elevated marriage, as did the “false and impossible” teaching of the celibate ideal. Instead, Luther, Calvin*, and others proposed marriage as the highest earthly estate, both a symbol and an embodiment of God’s covenant with his people. While holding true to the traditional consensual and indissoluble ideal of marriage, Protestants redefined each attribute in significant ways, also requiring parental approval of all unions for validity and allowing divorce and remarriage in some instances. During the last session of the Council of Trent*, Catholic leaders responded by also making parental consent and church solemnization essential for validity but resisted any major changes in the Church’s teachings on impediments and divorce. Virginity and celibacy were likewise reaffirmed as spiritually superior to marriage.

Beginning in the eighteenth century, marriage jurisdiction became an increasingly secular affair in predominantly Christian countries and by the beginning of the twentieth century, only Eastern Orthodox churches resisted the trend of dual civil and religious ceremonies, though not for long. Today, though commitment to the oldest theological elements of fidelity, sacredness, and permanence remains strong, all Christian denominations have experienced internal tensions and in some cases schisms over changes in their teachings on the importance of procreation (and thus contraception* and sexual pleasure), divorce* or annulment*, as well as gay and lesbian unions. Even the Roman Catholic Church, which is among the most doctrinally conservative body on such issues, in Vatican* II modified the traditional preeminence accorded to procreation in doctrines concerning marriage and the vocation of women. Meanwhile, the World* Council of Churches and other ecumenical assemblies continue to struggle for consensus on the contemporary significance of the theological tradition in urgent discussions regarding human sexuality, biotechnology, and violence against women. Joel F. Harrington (see Family*)
Marriage, Ceremony of, in Western Churches, is a rite of passage from single to the conjoined state of marriage as a social institution. Christian tradition admits both secular ceremonies (marriage as a consensual contract) and religious ceremonies (marriage as a covenant rooted in faith).

In antiquity the marriage ceremony was primarily a family event with the bride=s father handing over the bride, the groom carrying the bride over the threshold of his house, and eating cake or a wedding feast. Prior to c1000 in Europe, no Christian wedding ceremony existed; marriage was not an ecclesial matter. However, from the fourth century a clerical blessing might take place (often at the wedding feast); then clergy progressively had a more active role in marriage ceremonies, until all marriages were effectively under the jurisdiction of the church. By 1100 there was an established Christian wedding ceremony consisting of consent, handing over of bride and giving of dowry, blessing the bride=s ring, blessing of marriage (all at the church entrance); the nuptial Mass* was then celebrated with the bride being veiled and blessed and the priest giving the groom the ritual kiss of peace who then gave it to his bride; sometimes the priest blessed the wedding chamber.

In Western Europe, two main issues surround the ceremony of marriage: 1) whether marriage is constituted by consent (Roman tradition) or by intercourse (Frankish and Germanic traditions; consent was exchanged at the betrothal); the Western church decreed that consent alone was essential (12th c.); 2) whether marriage is a sacrament. Augustine claimed that marriage is a visible sign of the invisible relation of the union of Christ and his church and is a sacred pledge of fidelity between husband and wife. For Luther and Calvin since marriage existed from the beginning, it could not be a sacrament instituted by Christ; thus the church has no right to regulate marriage.

Since 1789 in France, then in all of Europe, civil weddings became mandatory; a religious ceremony follows (mandatory for Catholics, optional for Protestants). When marriage is celebrated with only a religious ceremony, the minister must also have the credentials to file a civil wedding certificate.

Many cultural customs surround the celebration of marriage around the world, but the deliberate consent of the couple is essential. Contemporary societies tend to regard marriage merely as a contract, and thus take a much more liberal stance toward divorce. Joyce Ann Zimmerman, C.PP.S
Marriage, Theology of, and Ceremony in Eastern Orthodoxy. Orthodox believe that marriage is instituted by God and called to reflect Christ’s union of love with his Church (Eph. 5:20-33, the Epistle reading for the marriage service).

Marriage is one of the great sacraments*, or mysteries*, of the Church. It is God who unites the man and woman in the wedding service; as the priest prays, “O holy God, who didst create man out of the dust, and didst fashion his wife and join her unto him as a helper, . . . Do Thou, the same Lord, . . . unite this Thy servant N., and this Thy handmaid N.; for by Thee is the husband united unto the wife.” No vows are said, as the marriage is understood to be accomplished by God, in cooperation with the good intentions and efforts of the couple, rather than by their expressed promises to each other.

One major purpose of marriage is for the spouses to help each other as they walk together on the path of salvation* towards eternal life. The procreation and nurture of children is also important and expected. Marriage provides the only God-sanctioned realm for the full expression of human sexuality. Marital relations are understood to be inherently good, and have no taint of sin when engaged in with dignity and mutual respectfulness. And marriage is considered to be essential for the stability and well-being of society.

Marriage can only be between one man and one woman, and ideally it is to last forever. Yet in pastoral recognition of human weakness and sinfulness, divorce* and remarriage have always been allowed.

The Orthodox Church’s high view of marriage is reflected in the practice of allowing clergy to be married. It is also reflected in John Chrysostom’s* exhortation to every married couple to make their home “a little church.” David and Mary Ford
Marriage, Theology and Practice of, in Asia is, generally, a socially and religiously sanctioned union both of a man and a woman and also of their respective families or clans. Christian marriage practices and rituals often follow the Western tradition inherited from mission churches. Marriage as a permanent and monogamous contract (“till death do us part”; Gen 1:27, 2:7-25; Matt 19:4-6; Mark 10:6-9) is, for Asian Catholics, a sacrament*, ordained by God for procreation, and for Asians of other church traditions a public vow and sacred contract. Remarriage is allowed for widows/widowers and also for divorcees, where divorce is legal (1 Cor 7:8-9)—not in predominantly Catholic societies like the Philippines*, where divorce is not allowed, although legal separation is possible. As elsewhere, gay-lesbian-bi-sexual-transgendered groups clamor for their own right to a love-based union; and some react to institutionalized marriage, opting to live together and have a family without official marriage.

More and more Asians contextualize their marriage rituals, incorporating Asian cultural motifs and symbols. Many Christian couples hold two marriage ceremonies–a Western one and an ethnic/cultural traditional one. Many Asians enter marriage because of mutual love. But certain communities still practice pre-arranged marriage by parents or elders. Due to interactions with the wider, plural world, Asian marriage is becoming more interracial and interreligious.

Asian feminist* theologians critique the inequality between woman and man implied by certain symbolisms in the rituals; the oppressive dowry tradition required of the bride’s families (that entered Christian marriages in India—despite its link to female feticide and infanticide). Asian feminists also challenge the justification of hierarchical relations between husband and wife through uncritical uses of scriptures*—e.g. household* codes of Eph 5:22-33, that they re-read to emphasize the mutual loving submission to each other for the full flowering of each member of the family. Hope Antone
Marriage, Theology and Practice of, in John Calvin’s Geneva. Before the Reformation, Geneva was an Episcopal city run by a prince-bishop, assisted by nearly one thousand clergymen, all committed by vows to a celibate life. It also permitted prostitution, under government supervision. With the Reformation both of these life styles were abolished, and all sexual impulse had to be channeled into marriage.

Before the Reformation marriage had been a sacrament* and was under the control of a bishop’s court. After the Reformation marriage technically became a civil matter. It was placed under the control of a new semi-judicial body called the Consistory that John Calvin* created through ecclesiastical ordinances (1541). This committee of the city government included twelve lay elders elected once a year, and all (about 12) the ordained pastors of Geneva, including Calvin. Calvin, as a professional lawyer, had thus created the body controlling marriage, created a set of marriage laws it applied (although these laws were not formally endorsed by the city government for several years), and sat upon it as a judge.

Marriage in Geneva was technically a contract created by a formal agreement between a man and a woman to live together the rest of their lives, witnessed by at least two honorable witnesses, normally approved by the couple’s two sets of parents. It was registered with the city government, announced from the pulpit of the parish in which the couple lived in three successive weeks, and then celebrated in a wedding a short time later. It was often accompanied with a notarized contract outlining the property each family involved brought to the new household, but this was not theologically necessary. The wedding at which the marriage was celebrated had to be held in a parish church, presided over by one of the city’s ministers, as part of any regular church service, except for the four Sundays during the year in which Geneva celebrated communion. Marriage could be dissolved with a divorce*, granted by the city government on recommendation of the Consistory, on grounds of either adultery or desertion. This provision for divorce was new in Christian Europe, but remained rare. Toward the end of his life, Calvin argued that the marriage contract was a form of covenant*, since it also involved an agreement with God. This led to a doctrine of covenantal marriage, as distinct from both sacramental marriage, and secular marriage. Robert M. Kingdon
Marriage Annulment in the Roman Catholic Church, is a “declaration of matrimonial nullity,” in Roman Catholic canon* law, i.e., an official determination that what appeared to be a valid marriage* was not one. Given the presumption of validity that canon law accords to marriage (1983 Codex* Iuris Canonici [CIC] 1060), the nullity of an impugned marriage must be carefully proven (1983 CIC 1608). Annulments are not granted upon request nor as favors to “deserving” persons. Civil annulments are not recognized by the Catholic Church.

A declaration of nullity is usually sought in order to facilitate one’s desire to enter a subsequent marriage in the Catholic Church. If granted, it declares both former spouses free to enter marriage in the Church without risk of bigamy. All annulment cases are reducible to questions of matrimonial capacity, consent, and form (1983 CIC 1057). On these matters, the jurisprudence of the Roman Rota (that functions as a court of appeal) is considered illuminative, but not biding on local tribunals (1983 CIC 16).

Annulment petitions are usually filed by one of the parties to the impugned marriage before an arch/diocesan tribunal (1983 CIC 1673). Major tribunal officers must have requisite academic degrees and are appointed by the bishop (1983 CIC 1419, 1432). The Defender of the Bond (an independent office, since Pope Benedict XIV) is specially charged with proposing the reasonable augments that can be offered against finding nullity. Declarations of nullity require ratification by an appellate tribunal (1983 CIC 1682). At times, the tribunal declaring nullity might impose a monitum (suggestion) or a vetitum (prohibition) on either or both parties, rendering a future attempt at marriage by same illicit or invalid, respectively, until the matter occasioning the restriction (say, active alcoholism) is address to the tribunal’s satisfaction.

Recent dramatic increases in the numbers of annulments world-wide, especially in the United States, have occasioned sharp criticism from those who fear that the Church’s commitment to life-long marriage is being undermined by the annulment process. Others observe that, besides changes in the 1983 Code that facilitated such increased numbers, annulment figures might reliably indicate the deterioration in the ability or willingness of many to enter marriage as proclaimed by the Catholic Church. Edward N. Peters

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