Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Christian Marriage

Cardinals and bishops have recently been claiming that same sex marriage is as sinful as slavery. The Pope has supported them, describing same sex marriage as an "attack on justice". The underlying problem is that, according to churchmen, marriage is a distinctly Christian institution with a consistent long tradition. Less canny churchmen are happy to expand on this: it is an institution stretching back to biblical times, unchanged since then, joining one man and woman, for life. The reason that only less canny churchmen are willing to spell this out, is that is that it is an impossible position to sustain. Marriage has not always been a Christian institution. Formalised pair bonding is almost universal in human societies around the world. The wedding that Jesus attended was a Jewish marriage not a Christian one. The Bible nowhere mentions Jesus establishing Christian marriage. It does not mention Christian marriage at all. 

For many centuries the Church did not even try to impose Christian marriage. Marriage was a secular contract, often based on pagan practice. Most of our pleasant little ceremonies associated with marriage - rings, bridesmaids, flowers, carrying the bride over the threshold - are all pre-Christian pagan customs, many of them Roman. The Catholic Church developed an optional ceremony called matrimony, but did not try to impose Christian matrimony in place of ordinary secular marriage until the twenty-fourth session of the Council of Trent in 1563. For the first time Matrimony was formally declared a sacrament. Even then the Council explicitly recognised traditional secular marriages as "valid and true marriages". Traditional secular marriages continued for centuries afterwards, and the Church continued to recognise these secular marriages, so that for example a person who entered a secular marriage could not then marry someone else in Church. Traditional secular marriages slowly declined throughout Europe. They were swept away in England by the Marriage Act of 1753 and in Scotland by the Marriage (Scotland) Act of 1939 - so the distinctly Christian tradition is really not that old - and in both countries was imposed by law, not voluntarily embraced by a devout populace.

The Bible, and Christian Churches up until the nineteenth century, were also happy to countenance Morganatic marriage and even concubinage. King Solomon had had 300 concubines, and had been acclaimed by God for his wisdom. In line with the Bible, Christian men kept concubines for many centuries, and in some countries still do. In the USA slaves and ex-slaves were often taken as concubines, especially where Christian endorsed State laws made "mixed" marriages between blacks and whites illegal, as such marriages remained until 1967. Then there is the question of marriage being only for men and women. Church Law was perfectly happy to marry men to girls, or boys to women, or boys to girls. In theory the children had to be aged at least seven, and the wedding could be voided up to the age of 12 for girls and 14 for boys. In practice we know of many instances where babes-in-arms underwent matrimonial ceremonies in church. 

Then there is the question of one man/boy and one woman/girl. Old Testament writings indicate clearly that God approved of polygamy. Wise old King Solomon had had 700 wives, as well as his concubines. New Testament writings fail to indicate that God ever changed his mind about polygamy (except specifically for bishops who "must be blameless, the husband of one wife", 1 Timothy 3-2). As Martin Luther observed "I confess that I cannot forbid a person to marry several wives, for it does not contradict Scripture". Lutheran theologians approved of Philip of Hesse's polygamous marriages to Christina of Saxony and Margarethe von der Saale. The Anglican Church made a decision at the 1988 Lambeth Conference to admit polygamists, subject to certain restrictions.

So when exactly did God change his mind about polygamy, and how do we know? And why did he not mention his change of policy to his Christian followers for centuries after his sojourn on Earth? (Incidentally, God did not mention his change of policy to Jewish followers for a millennium, and he still has not mentioned it to his Moslem followers). Because of this lack of clarity some Christian sects continued to practice polygamy, and a few still do today. Even mainstream Churches go along with polygamy where it is in their interests to do so, for example in parts of Africa where polygamy is popular, and Moslems and Christians compete for converts. Catholic Presidents in Africa are widely known to be in polygamous marriages, but they still get warm welcomes at the Vatican. Jesus Christ himself can be seen as a polygamist - countless thousands of Catholic nuns were traditionally encouraged by their Church to consider themselves to be married to him. The ceremony in which they took their vows and became "brides of Christ" were conscious imitations of wedding ceremonies, even down to the wedding crown, veil and dowry.

This photograph is entitled "A Meeting of the Brides of Christ on their Wedding Day to their Lord at the Nunnery in Godalming, Surrey". It was taken in 1965 at the Ladywell Convent and is one of a series on the lives of nuns that Eve Arnold took during the mid-1960s. 

Then there is the purported purpose of marriage. For traditional secular marriage there could be any purpose, including romantic love. But love has never had any part in Christian marriage. The possible reasons have varied from the traditional Catholic insistence, codified in Cannon law, that the only acceptable motive for marriage was procreation, to the three acceptable motives recognised by Anglicans. These three motives are procreation, companionship and as a "remedy against fornication", because without marriage we should all be copulating like the "brute beasts of the field". 

Traditional marriages undertaken by Christians were arranged marriages. They transferred the ownership of a woman from her father to her husband. That's why the father is still said to "give away" his daughter during Christian wedding ceremonies. As in the bible, women were a form of property, not very different from slaves and other chattels, denied legal privileges of their male owners. In any case, love was not and still is not required in Christian marriage. By contrast, in practice, love is central to modern secular marriage.

Again, there is the question of whether marriage is for life. Clearly Christian marriage was not. At various times the Roman Church dissolved marriages for a wide range of reasons, some of which, like adultery, were explicitly authorised in the Bible. There is a large body of Canon Law setting out the many conditions under which marriages can be dissolved. The Church dissolved something like 20 percent of medieval marriages between royalty and nobility - pretty much on demand if both parties agreed and were prepared to pay. The marriage between Charles Spencer-Churchill, 9th Duke of Marlborough and Consuelo Vanderbilt was annulled by Pope Pius XI on 19 August 1926. He obligingly legitimized their two sons.

 Charles, 9th Duke of Marlborough, with his wife Consuelo, and two sons

Christian marriage has never been for life, for those with influence. In Britain after the Reformation, Parliament dissolved marriages, reinforcing the fact that for Anglicans marriage was a secular, not a religious matter. Today the divorce courts in Britain, as in many countries, operate under civil law, not ecclesiastical law.

While in Western Churches, because of divorce, marriage can be for less than life. In the Eastern Church, it can be for more than life. A Christian widow or widower was traditionally expected to remain faithful to their dead spouse. The Church discouraged a second marriage ("digamy"), strongly discouraged a third marriage and completely prohibited a fourth.

Then there is the question of consistency. For most Christian denominations, marriage is not a sacrament. For Catholics it is. Anglicans may marry their first cousins, but Catholics may not. At one time Catholics were not permitted to marry anyone within seven degrees of consanguinity, in practice making almost all marriages voidable. All of the main denominations have different ideas of who can marry. Catholic and Orthodox Churches have different rules not only for divorcees and bereaved spouses, but also for priests. Catholic Priests were once able to marry but now they are not allowed to - though married men can, and sometimes do, become priests. According to the Roman Church, couples who are handicapped and unable to have children may not marry - Catholic priests have refused to marry couples on these grounds even in recent times. According to more liberal denominations such couples may marry. Liberal denominations welcome "gay marriage": conservative denominations condemn it as blasphemous. In short, there is no element of Christian marriage that has been consistently applied by Christian Churches, and certainly not since biblical times.

The fact is that marriage is not a distinctly Christian institution. Christian marriage as we now know it has neither a long nor a consistent tradition. It is a relative late comer, and has changed in fundamental ways from place to place, time to time, and sect to sect, with wildly different rules about how it applies and whom it applies to. Perhaps the time has come to stop pretending that the Christian Church has a monopoly on marriage. If churchmen so desperately need a special word to apply to their Christian weddings, why not use holy matrimony, and leave marriage for the Government and the rest of us. 


  1. But the decision of Trent was not the first given by the Church. The Council of Florence, in the Decree for the Armenians, had already declared: "The seventh sacrament is matrimony, which is a figure of the union of Christ, and the Church, according to the words of the Apostle: This is a great sacrament, but I speak in Christ and in the Church.'" And Innocent IV, in the profession of faith prescribed for the Waldensians (18 December, 1208), includes matrimony among the sacraments (Denzinger-Bannwart, "Enchiridion", n. 424). The acceptance of the sacraments administered in the Church had been prescribed in general in the following words: "And we by no means reject the sacraments which are administered in it (the Roman Catholic Church), with the co-operation of the inestimable and invisible power of the Holy Ghost, even though they be administered by a sinful priest, provided the Church recognizes him", the formula then takes up each sacrament in particular, touching especially on those points which the Waldensians had denied: "Therefore we approve of baptism of children . . . confirmation administered by the bishop . . . the sacrifice of the Eucharist. . . . We believe that pardon is granted by God to penitent sinners . . . we hold in honour the anointing of the sick with consecrated oil . . . we do not deny that carnal marriages are to be contracted, according to the words of the Apostle." It is, therefore, historically certain that from the beginning of the thirteenth century the sacramental character of marriage was universally known and recognized as a dogma. Even the few theologians who minimized, or who seemed to minimize, the sacramental character of marriage, set down in the foremost place the proposition that marriage is a sacrament of the New Law in the strict sense of the word, and then sought to conform their further theses on the effect and nature of marriage to this fundamental truth, as will be evident from the quotations given below.


  2. The reason why marriage was not expressly and formally included among the sacraments earlier and the denial of it branded as heresy, is to be found in the historical development of the doctrine regarding the sacraments; but the fact itself may be traced to Apostolic times. With regard to the several religious rites designated as "Sacraments of the New Law", there was always in the Church a profound conviction that they conferred interior Divine grace. But the grouping of them into one and the same category was left for a later period, when the dogmas of faith in general began to be scientifically examined and systematically arranged. Furthermore, that the seven sacraments should be grouped in one category was by no means self-evident. For, though it was accepted that each of these rites conferred interior grace, yet, in contrast to their common invisible effect, the difference in external ceremony and even in the immediate purpose of the production of grace was so great that, for a long time, it hindered a uniform classification. Thus, there is a radical difference between the external form under which baptism, confirmation, and orders, on the one hand are administered, and, on the other hand, those that characterize penance and marriage. For while marriage is in the nature of a contract, and penance in the nature of a judicial process, the three first-mentioned take the form of a religious consecration of the recipients.

    The classical Scriptural text is the declaration of the Apostle Paul (Ephesians 5:22 sqq.), who emphatically declares that the relation between husband and wife should be as the relation between Christ and His Church: "Let women be subject to their husbands, as to the Lord: because the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ is the head of the Church. He is the saviour of his body. Therefore as the Church is subject to Christ, so also let the wives be to their husbands in all things. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the Church, and delivered Himself up for it: that He might sanctify it, cleansing it by the laver of water in the word of life; that He might present it to Himself a glorious church not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that it should be holy, and without blemish. So also ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife, loveth himself. For no man ever hated his own flesh; but nourisheth it and cherisheth it, as also Christ doth the Church: because we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones." After this exhortation the Apostle alludes to the Divine institution of marriage in the prophetical words proclaimed by God through Adam: "For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall be two in one flesh." He then concludes with the significant words in which he characterizes Christian marriage: "This is a great sacrament; but I speak in Christ and in the Church."

  3. It would be rash, of course, to infer immediately from the expression, "This is a great sacrament", that marriage is a sacrament of the New Law in the strict sense, for the meaning of the word sacrament, as already remarked, is too indefinite. But considering the expression in its relation to the preceding words, we are led to the conclusion that it is to be taken in the strict sense of a sacrament of the New Law. The love of Christian spouses for each other should be modelled on the love between Christ and the Church, because Christian marriage, as a copy and token of the union of Christ with the Church, is a great mystery or sacrament. It would not be a solemn, mysterious symbol of the union of Christ with the Church, which takes concrete form in the individual members of the Church, unless it efficaciously represented this union, i.e. not merely by signifying the supernatural life-union of Christ with the Church, but also by causing that union to be realized in the individual members; or, in other words, by conferring the supernatural life of grace. The first marriage between Adam and Eve in Paradise was a symbol of this union; in fact, merely as a symbol, it surpassed individual Christian marriages, inasmuch as it was an antecedent type, whereas individual Christian marriages are subsequent representations. There would be no reason, therefore, why the Apostle should refer with such emphasis to Christian marriage as so great a sacrament, if the greatness of Christian marriage did not lie in the fact, that it is not a mere sign, but an efficacious sign of the life of grace. In fact, it would be entirely out of keeping with the economy of the New Testament if we possessed a sign of grace and salvation instituted by God which was only an empty sign, and not an efficacious one. Elsewhere (Galatians 4:9), St. Paul emphasizes in a most significant fashion the difference between the Old and the New Testament, when he calls the religious rites of the former "weak and needy elements" which could not of themselves confer true sanctity, the effect of true justice and sanctity being reserved for the New Testament and its religious rites. If, therefore, he terms Christian marriage, as a religious act, a great sacrament, he means not to reduce it to the low plane of the Old Testament rites, to the plane of a "weak and needy element", but rather to show its importance as a sign of the life of grace, and, like the other sacraments, an efficacious sign. St. Paul, then, does not speak of marriage as a true sacrament in explicit and immediately apparent fashion, but only in such wise that the doctrine must be deduced from his words. Hence, the Council of Trent (Sess. XXIV), in the dogmatic chapter on marriage, says that the sacramental effect of grace in marriage is "intimated" by the Apostle in the Epistle to the Ephesians (quod Paulus Apostolus innuit). For further confirmation of the doctrine that marriage under the New Law confers grace and is therefore included among the true sacraments, the Council of Trent refers to the Holy Fathers, the earlier councils, and the ever manifest tradition of the universal Church. The teaching of the Fathers and the constant tradition of the Church, as already remarked, set forth the dogma of Christian marriage as a sacrament, not in the scientific, theological terminology of later time, but only in substance. Substantially, the following elements belong to a sacrament of the New Law:

    it must be a sacred religious rite instituted by Christ;
    this rite must be a sign of interior sanctification;
    it must confer this interior sanctification or Divine grace;
    this effect of Divine grace must be produced, not only in conjunction with the respective religious act, but through it.
    Hence, whoever attributes these elements to Christian marriage, thereby declares it a true sacrament in the strict sense of the word.

  4. Testimony to this effect is to be found from the earliest Christian times onward. The clearest is that of St. Augustine in his works "De bono conjugii" and "De nuptiis et concupiscentia". In the former work (chapter 24), he says, "Among all people and all men the good that is secured by marriage consists in the offspring and in the chastity of married fidelity; but, in the case of God's people [the Christians], it consists moreover in the holiness of the sacrament, by reason of which it is forbidden, even after a separation has taken place, to marry another as long as the first partner lives . . . just as priests are ordained to draw together a Christian community, and even though no such community be formed, the Sacrament of Orders still abides in those ordained, or just as the Sacrament of the Lord, once it is conferred, abides even in one who is dismissed from his office on account of guilt, although in such a one it abides unto judgment." In the other work (1.10), the holy Doctor says: "Undoubtedly it belongs to the essence of this sacrament that, when man and wife are once united by marriage, this bond remains indissoluble throughout their lives. As long as both live, there remains a something attached to the marriage, which neither mutual separation nor union with a third can remove; in such cases, indeed, it remains for the aggravation of the guilt of their crime, not for the strengthening of the union. Just as the soul of an apostate, which was once similarly wedded unto Christ and now separates itself from Him, does not, in spite of its loss of faith, lose the Sacrament of Faith, which it has received in the waters of regeneration." In these words, St. Augustine places marriage, which he names a sacrament, on the same level with Baptism and Holy Orders. Thus, as Baptism and Holy Orders are sacraments in the strict sense and are recognized as such by the Holy Doctor, he also considers the marriage of Christians a sacrament in the full and strict sense of the word.

    Scarcely less clear is the testimony of St. Ambrose. In his letter to Siricius (Ep. xlii, 3, in P.L., XVI, 1124), he states: "We also do not deny that marriage was sanctified by Christ"; and to Vigilius he writes (Ep. xix, 7, in P.L., XVI, 984): "Since the contracting of marriage must be sanctified by the veiling and the blessing of the priest, how can there be any mention of a marriage, when unity of faith is wanting?" Of what kind this sanctification is, the saint tells us clearly in his work "De Abraham" (I, vii, in P.L., XIV, 443): "We know that God is the Head and Protector, who does not permit that another's marriage-bed be defiled; and further that one guilty of such a crime sins against God, whose command he contravenes and whose bond of grace he loosens. Therefore, since he has sinned against God, he now loses his participation in the heavenly sacrament." According to Ambrose, therefore, Christian marriage is a heavenly sacrament, which binds one with God by the bonds of grace until these bonds are sundered by subsequent sin that is, it is a sacrament in the strict and complete sense of the word. The value of this testimony might be weakened only by supposing that Ambrose, in referring to the "participation in the heavenly sacrament" which he declares forfeited by adulterers, was really thinking of Holy Communion. But of the latter there is in the present instance not the slightest question; consequently, he must here mean the loss of all share in the grace of the Sacrament of Marriage. This production of grace through marriage, and therefore its character as a perfect sacrament, was emphasized also by Innocent I in his letter to Probus (Ep. ix, in P.L., XX, 602). He declares a second marriage during the lifetime of the first partner invalid, and adds: "Supported by the Catholic Faith, we declare that the true marriage is that which is originally founded on Divine grace."


  5. Earlier this month we gave you a first look at the Nike Air Force 1 UltraForce Mid, Nike’s newest version of the classic ’80’s basketball silhouette. Dubbed the Nike Air Force 1 UltraForce Mid, what makes this version stand out Nike Flyknit Racer from the rest is the fact that it comes with a sock-like bootie construction. New colorways have surfaced, here’s a first look at all of them.The nike free 5.0 Nike Air Force 1 UltraForce Mid is seen in Red, Black, Beige and Light Blue. Notable features on the shoe include the cored-out sole unit, the Nike Air Max 2017 bootie construction and a new mid-cut upper. All these changes make the shoe lighter, more modern looking and more comfortable. The tonal look of the upper Nike Internationalist is contrasted nicely by the all-White sole unit noted below. Get a good at all the colorways above and expect them to drop in Japan on Nike Air Max 2016 January 5th. Stay tuned for a stateside release date.
    Celebrating the original 2008 model is the newest Nike Hyperdunk 2016 Low Anthracite release that’s dropping for Nike Air Max 2016 the holiday season.Dressed in an Anthracite, White and Wolf Grey color scheme. This Nike Hyperdunk 2016 Low edition is highlighted with sketches of the original 2008 Nike Air Max Outlet model on its tongue and heel. A speckled midsole, reflective details and clear outsoles completes the design.Check out the official images below and look for the Nike Shoes