Marriage Sacrament Essay

The Catholic Ideal of the Sacrament of Marriage Essay

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The Catholic Ideal of the Sacrament of Marriage

In the Catholic view, marriage is that it is sacramental. This means that marriage is a covenant relationship between the man and woman involved and hence it is voluntary and boundless. Its clear purpose is the begetting of children and mutual companionship and help. Virginity however, is the preferred state in Catholic belief. The primary purpose of marriage is to fulfill a vocation in the nature of man and woman, for the procreation and education of children, and to stand as a symbol of the mystical union between Christ and his Church. Fertility is a good, a gift and an end of marriage. By giving life, spouses participate in God's fatherhood.…show more content…

I will give you a helpmate, who will be your companion. This at last is flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone. She shall be called woman because she had been made from man. And this is why it is said that man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife and they shall become one flesh." It was part of God's original plan that was hindered by Adam and Eve's sin. ). It is evident that monogamy was the original law of marriage (Matt. 19:5; 1 Cor. 6:16).

God who created man out of love also calls him to love the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being. For man is created in the image and likeness of God who is himself love.Since God created him man and woman, their mutual love becomes an image of the absolute and unfailing love with which God loves man. It is good, in the Creator's eyes. And this love which God blesses is intended to be fruitful and to be realized in the common work of watching over creation: "And God blessed them, and God said to them: 'Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it.

St. Paul justified that marriage should not be broken. "Husbands and wives should remain together because they show or symbolises Christ's love" (Ephesians 5:21-33). And so with Christ's teachings: "God joined man and woman as one. Those two will leave their parents to unite as one. Therefore if God unites them, they shouldn't

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Marriage in the Roman Catholic Church, also called matrimony, is the "covenant by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life and which is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring", and which "has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament between the baptised."[1]Catholic matrimonial law, based on Roman law regarding its focus on marriage as a free mutual agreement or contract, became the basis for the marriage law of all European countries, at least up to the Reformation.[2]

Roman Catholic Church view of the importance of marriage[edit]

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "The intimate community of life and love which constitutes the married state has been established by the Creator and endowed by him with its own proper laws. . . . God himself is the author of marriage. The vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator. Marriage is not a purely human institution despite the many variations it may have undergone through the centuries in different cultures, social structures, and spiritual attitudes. These differences should not cause us to forget its common and permanent characteristics. Although the dignity of this institution is not transparent everywhere with the same clarity, some sense of the greatness of the matrimonial union exists in all cultures. The well-being of the individual person and of both human and Christian society is closely bound up with the healthy state of conjugal and family life."[3]

It also says: "The Church attaches great importance to Jesus' presence at the wedding at Cana. She sees in it the confirmation of the goodness of marriage and the proclamation that thenceforth marriage will be an efficacious sign of Christ's presence. In his preaching Jesus unequivocally taught the original meaning of the union of man and woman as the Creator willed it from the beginning permission given by Moses to divorce one's wife was a concession to the hardness of hearts. The matrimonial union of man and woman is indissoluble: God himself has determined it 'what therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder'. This unequivocal insistence on the indissolubility of the marriage bond may have left some perplexed and could seem to be a demand impossible to realize. However, Jesus has not placed on spouses a burden impossible to bear, or too heavy – heavier than the Law of Aaron. By coming to restore the original order of creation disturbed by sin, he himself gives the strength and grace to live marriage in the new dimension of the Reign of God."[3]

History of marriage in the Catholic Church[edit]

Early period[edit]

Marriage was considered a necessary passage into adulthood, and strongly supported within the Jewish faith. The author of the letter to the Hebrews declared that marriage should be held in honour among all,[4] and early Christians defended the holiness of marriage against the Gnostics and the Antinomians.[5]

At the same time, some in the emerging Christian communities began to prize the celibate state higher than marriage, taking the model of Jesus as guide. This resonated with a widespread belief about the imminent coming of the Kingdom of God; and thus the exhortation by Jesus to avoid earthly ties. The apostle Paul in his letters also suggested a preference for celibacy, but recognized that not all Christians necessarily had the ability to live such a life: "Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion."[6] This teaching suggested that marriage be used only as a last resort by those Christians who found it too difficult to exercise a level of self-control and remain chaste, not having the gift of celibacy.[7] Armstrong has argued that to a significant degree, early Christians "placed less value on the family" and saw celibacy and freedom from family ties as a preferable state for those capable of it.[8] Nevertheless, this is tempered by other scholars who state Paul would no more impose celibacy than insist on marriage. What people instinctively choose manifests God's gift. Thus, he takes for granted that the married are not called to celibacy.[9]

As the Church developed as an institution and came into contact with the Greek world, it reinforced the idea found in writers such as Plato and Aristotle that the celibate unmarried state was preferable and more holy than the married one. At the same time, it challenged some of the prevalent social norms such as the buying and selling of women into marriage, and defended the right of women to choose to remain unmarried virgins for the sake of Christ. The stories associated with the many virgin martyrs in the first few centuries of the Catholic Church often make it clear that they were martyred for their refusal to marry, not necessarily simply their belief in Christ.

The teaching on the superiority of virginity over marriage expressed by Saint Paul, was accepted by the early Church, as shown in the perhaps 1st-century Shepherd of Hermas. Justin Martyr, writing in the middle of the 2nd century, boasted of the "many men and women of sixty and seventy years of age who from their childhood have been the disciples of Christ, and have kept themselves uncorrupted". Virginity was praised by Cyprian (c. 200 – 258) and other prominent Christian figures and leaders. Philip Schaff admits that it cannot be denied that the later doctrine of the 16th century Council of Trent – "that it is more blessed to remain virgin or celibate than to be joined in marriage" – was the view that dominated the whole of the early Christian church. At the same time, the Church still discouraged anyone who would "condemn marriage, or abominate and condemn a woman who is a believer and devout, and sleeps with her own husband, as though she could not enter the Kingdom [of heaven]".[10]

For much of the history of the Catholic Church, no specific ritual was therefore prescribed for celebrating a marriage – at least not until the late medieval period: "Marriage vows did not have to be exchanged in a church, nor was a priest's presence required. A couple could exchange consent anywhere, anytime."[11]

Church Fathers[edit]

Markus notes this impact on the early Christian attitude, particularly as Christian anxiety about sex intensified after 400: ""The superiority of virginity and sexual abstinence was generally taken for granted. But a dark undercurrent of hostility to sexuality and marriage became interwoven with the more benign attitudes towards the body and current as late as the second century. Attitudes diverged, and mainstream Christianity became infected with a pronounced streak of distrust towards bodily existence and sexuality. This permanent 'encratite' tendency was given powerful impetus in the debates about Christian perfection at the end of the fourth and the beginning of the fifth centuries."[12]

While the Church Fathers of the Latin or Catholic Church did not condemn marriage, they nevertheless taught a preference for celibacy and virginity.

Bishop Ignatius of Antioch, writing around 110 to Bishop Polycarp of Smyrna said, "[I]t becomes both men and women who marry, to form their union with the approval of the bishop, that their marriage may be according to God, and not after their own lust."[13]

Tertullian (c. 160 – c. 225) noted as early as the second century that Christians were "requesting marriage" from their priests, and was satisfied ("Ad Uxorem") how a priestly blessing could transform a sinful act into a sanctified one; provided it was sanctified in moderation and only if children might be born of it. However, he also argued that a second marriage, involving someone freed from the first by the death of a spouse, "will have to be termed no other than a species of fornication", an argument based partly on the reasoning that such involves desiring to marry a woman out of sexual ardor.[14]

Cyprian (c. 200 – 258), Bishop of Carthage, recommended, in his Three Books of Testimonies against the Jews that Christians should not marry pagans.[15] Addressing consecrated virgins he wrote: "The first decree commanded to increase and to multiply; the second enjoined continency. While the world is still rough and void, we are propagated by the fruitful begetting of numbers, and we increase to the enlargement of the human race. Now, when the world is filled and the earth supplied, they who can receive continency, living after the manner of eunuchs, are made eunuchs unto the kingdom. Nor does the Lord command this, but He exhorts it; nor does He impose the yoke of necessity, since the free choice of the will is left."[16][17]

Jerome (c. 347 – 420) commenting on Paul's letter to the Corinthians wrote: "If 'it is good for a man not to touch a woman', then it is bad for him to touch one, for bad, and bad only, is the opposite of good. But, if though bad, it is made venial, then it is allowed to prevent something which would be worse than bad. ... Notice the Apostle's carefulness. He does not say: 'It is good not to have a wife', but, 'It is good for a man not to touch a woman'. ... I am not expounding the law as to husbands and wives, but discussing the general question of sexual intercourse – how in comparison with chastity and virginity, the life of angels, 'It is good for a man not to touch a woman'."[18] He also argued that marriage distracted from prayer, and so virginity was better: "If we are to pray always, it follows that we must never be in the bondage of wedlock, for as often as I render my wife her due, I cannot pray. The difference, then, between marriage and virginity is as great as that between not sinning and doing well; nay rather, to speak less harshly, as great as between good and better." Regarding the clergy, he said: "Now a priest must always offer sacrifices for the people: he must therefore always pray. And if he must always pray, he must always be released from the duties of marriage." In referring to Genesis chapter 2, he further argued that, "while Scripture on the first, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth days relates that, having finished the works of each, God saw that it was good, on the second day it omitted this altogether, leaving us to understand that two is not a good number because it destroys unity, and prefigures the marriage compact."[19] Jerome reaffirmed Genesis 1:28 ("God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth") and Hebrews 13:4 ("Marriage is honourable in all"), and distanced himself from the disparagement of marriage by Marcion and Manichaeus, and from Tatian, who thought all sexual intercourse, even in marriage, to be impure.[20]

There were, of course, counter-views. Pelagius thought Jerome showed bitter hostility to marriage akin to Manichaean dualism,[17] an accusation that Jerome attempted to rebut in his Adversus Jovinianum: "We do not follow the views of Marcion and Manichaeus, and disparage marriage; nor, deceived by the error of Tatian, the leader of the Encratites, do we think all intercourse impure; he condemns and rejects not only marriage but also food which God created for the use of man. We know that in a great house, there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and earthenware. [...] While we honour marriage we prefer virginity which is the offspring of marriage. Will silver cease to be silver, if gold is more precious than silver?"[21] Elsewhere he explained: "Someone may say: 'And do you dare disparage marriage, which is blessed by the Lord?' It is not disparaging marriage when virginity is preferred to it. No one compares evil with good. Let married women glory too, since they come second to virgins. Increase, He says, and multiply, and fill the earth. Let him who is to fill the earth increase and multiply. Your company is in heaven."[22] Mocking a monk[23] who accused him of condemning marriage, Jerome wrote: "He must hear at least the echo of my cry, 'I do not condemn marriage', 'I do not condemn wedlock'. Indeed — and this I say to make my meaning quite clear to him — I should like every one to take a wife who, because they get frightened in the night, cannot manage to sleep alone."[7][23][24]

It was Augustine (354–430), whose views subsequently strongly influenced Western theology,[25] that was most influential in developing a theology of the sacramentality of Christian marriage.[26] In his youth, Augustine had also been a follower of Manichaeism, but after his conversion to Christianity he rejected the Manichaean condemnation of marriage and reproduction for imprisoning spiritual light within material darkness.[27] He subsequently went on to teach that marriage is not evil, but good, even if it is not at the level of choosing virginity: "Marriage and fornication are not two evils, whereof the second is worse: but marriage and continence are two goods, whereof the second is better."[28]

In his On the Good of Marriage, of 401, he distinguished three values in marriage: fidelity, which is more than sexual; offspring, which "entails the acceptance of children in love, their nurturance in affection, and their upbringing in the Christian religion; and sacrament, in that its indissolubility is a sign of the eternal unity of the blessed.[29] Like the other Church Fathers of East and West, Augustine taught that virginity is a higher way of life, although it is not given to everyone to live at that higher level. In his De bono coniugali (On the Good of Marriage), he wrote: "I know what people are murmuring: 'Suppose', they remark, 'that everyone sought to abstain from all intercourse? How would the human race survive? I only wish that this was everyone's concern so long as it was uttered in charity, 'from a pure heart, a good conscience, and faith unfeigned'; then the city of God would be filled much more speedily, and the end of the world would be hastened."[30] Armstrong sees in this an apocalyptic dimension in Augustine's teaching.[17] Reynolds says that Augustine's comment on this wildly hypothetical objection by Jovinian may have been that the saintliness of a church in which all had chosen celibacy would mean that it comprised enough members to fill God's city or that the church would thereby gather souls to herself even more rapidly than she was already doing.[31] Nevertheless, Augustine's name "could, indeed, be invoked through the medieval centuries to reinforce the exaltation of virginity at the expense of marriage and to curtail the role of sexuality even within Christian marriage".[17]

Finally, Isidore of Seville (c. 560 – 636) refined and broadened Augustine's formulation and was part of the chain by which it was transmitted to the Middle Ages.[32]

Although not a church father, but belonging to the same period, in Adomnan of Iona's biography of St Columba, the saint at one point is mentioned as meeting a woman who refuses to sleep with her husband and perform her marriage duties. When Columba meets the woman, she says that she would do anything, even to go to a monastery and become a nun, rather than to sleep with him. Columba tells the woman that the commandment of God is for her to sleep with her husband and not to leave the marriage to be a nun, because once they are married the two have become one flesh.[33]

Medieval period[edit]

Sacramental development[edit]

The medieval Christian church, taking the lead of Augustine, developed the sacramental understanding of matrimony. However, even at this stage the Catholic Church did not consider the sacraments equal in importance.[34][35][36] Marriage has never been considered either to be one of the sacraments of Christian initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist) or of those that confer a character (Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Orders).[37]

With the development of sacramental theology, marriage was included in the select seven to which the term "sacrament" was applied. Explicit classification of marriage in this way came in reaction to the contrary teaching of Catharism that marriage and procreation are evil: the first official declaration that marriage is a sacrament was made at the 1184 Council of Verona as part of a condemnation of the Cathars.[38] In 1208, Pope Innocent III required members of another religious movement, that of the Waldensians, to recognize that marriage is a sacrament as a condition for being received back into the Catholic Church.[38] In 1254, Catholics accused Waldensians of condemning the sacrament of marriage, "saying that married persons sin mortally if they come together without the hope of offspring".[39] The Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 had already stated in response to the teaching of the Cathars: "For not only virgins and the continent but also married persons find favour with God by right faith and good actions and deserve to attain to eternal blessedness."[40] Marriage was also included in the list of the seven sacraments at the Second Council of Lyon in 1274 as part of the profession of faith required of Michael VIII Palaiologos. The sacraments of marriage and holy orders were distinguished as sacraments that aim at the "increase of the Church" from the other five sacraments, which are intended for the spiritual perfection of individuals. The Council of Florence in 1439 again recognised marriage as a sacrament.[38][41]

The medieval view of the sacramentality of marriage has been described as follows: "Like the other sacraments, medieval writers argued, marriage was an instrument of sanctification, a channel of grace that caused God's gracious gifts and blessings to be poured upon humanity. Marriage sanctified the Christian couple by allowing them to comply with God's law for marriage and by providing them with an ideal model of marriage in Christ the bridegroom, who took the church as his bride and accorded it highest love, devotion, and sacrifice, even to the point of death."[42]

Liturgical practice[edit]

Matrimony, for most of Church history had been celebrated (as in traditions such as the Roman and Judaic) without clergy and was done according to local customs. The first available written detailed account of a Christian wedding in the West dates only from the 9th century and appears to be identical to the old nuptial service of Ancient Rome.[34] However, early witnesses to the practice of intervention by the clergy in the marriage of early Christians include Tertullian, who speaks of Christians "requesting marriage" from them,[43] and Ignatius of Antioch, who said Christians should form their union with the approval of the bishop – although the absence of clergy placed no bar, and there is no suggestion that the recommendation was widely adopted.[13]

In the 4th century in the Eastern Church it was the custom in some areas for marriages to receive a blessing by a priest to ensure fertility.[44] There are also a few accounts of religious nuptial services from the 7th century onward.[45] However, while in the East the priest was seen as ministering the sacrament, in the West it was the two parties to the marriage (if baptized) who effectively ministered, and their concordant word was sufficient proof of the existence of a sacramental marriage, whose validity required neither the presence of witnesses nor observance of the law of the 1215 Fourth Lateran Council that demanded publication of the banns of marriage.[46]

Thus, with few local exceptions, until in some cases long after the Council of Trent, marriages in Europe were by mutual consent, declaration of intention to marry and upon the subsequent physical union of the parties.[47][48] The couple would promise verbally to each other that they would be married to each other; the presence of a priest or witnesses was not required.[49] This promise was known as the "verbum." If freely given and made in the present tense (e.g., "I marry you"), it was unquestionably binding;[47] if made in the future tense ("I will marry you"), it would constitute a betrothal. One of the functions of churches from the Middle Ages was to register marriages, which was not obligatory. There was no state involvement in marriage and personal status, with these issues being adjudicated in ecclesiastical courts. During the Middle Ages marriages were arranged, sometimes as early as birth, and these early pledges to marry were often used to ensure treaties between different royal families, nobles, and heirs of fiefdoms. The church resisted these imposed unions, and increased the number of causes for nullification of these arrangements.[50] As Christianity spread during the Roman period and the Middle Ages, the idea of free choice in selecting marriage partners increased and spread with it.[50]

The validity of such marriages even if celebrated under a tree or in a tavern or in a bed was upheld even against that of a later marriage in a church.[51] Even after the Council of Trent made the presence of the parish priest or his delegate and of at least two more witnesses a condition for validity, the previous situation continued in the many countries where its decree was not promulgated. It ended only in 1908, with the coming into force of the Ne Temere decree.

In the 12th century, Pope Alexander III decreed that what made a marriage was the free mutual consent by the spouses themselves, not a decision by their parents or guardians.[52] After that, clandestine marriages or youthful elopements began to proliferate, with the result that ecclesiastical courts had to decide which of a series of marriages that a man was accused of celebrating was the first and therefore the valid one.[53][54] Though "detested and forbidden" by the Church,[55] they were acknowledged to be valid. Similarly today, Catholics are forbidden to enter mixed marriages without permission from an authority of the Church, but if someone does enter such a marriage without permission, the marriage is reckoned to be valid, provided the other conditions are fulfilled, although illicit.

Counter-Reformation[edit]

In the 16th century, various groups adhering to the Protestant Reformation denied in different degrees the sacramental nature of most Catholic sacraments.[56] In reaction, the Council of Trent on 3 March 1547 carefully named and defined the Catholic Church's sacraments,[56] reaffirming[57] the teaching that marriage is a sacrament in 1184, 1208, 1274 and 1439. Recalling scripture, the apostolic traditions and the declarations of previous councils and of the Church Fathers, the bishops declared that there were precisely seven sacraments, with marriage one of them, and that all seven are truly and properly sacraments.[57][58][58]

Desiderius Erasmus had influenced the debate in the first part of the 16th century by publishing in 1518 an essay in praise of marriage (Encomium matrimonii). This had argued that the single state was, "a barren way of life hardly becoming to a man". The theologian Josse Clichtove working at the University of Paris interpreted this as an attack on chastity, but Erasmus had found favour with Protestant reformers who acknowledged the argument as a useful tool to undermine compulsory clerical celibacy and monasticism.[59]Diarmaid MacCulloch argued that the action taken at Trent was therefore partly a response by Roman Catholicism to demonstrate that it was as serious about marriage and the family as the Protestants,.[59]

On 11 November 1563, the Council of Trent condemned the view that "the marriage state is to be placed above the state of virginity, or of celibacy, and that it is not better and more blessed to remain in virginity, or in celibacy, than to be united in matrimony".[60] And while Catholics upheld the supernatural character of marriage, it was Protestants who viewed it as not a sacrament and who admitted divorce.[61][62][63]

The decree Tametsi of 1563 was one of the last decisions made at Trent. The decree effectively sought to impose the Church's control over the process of marriage by laying down as strict conditions as possible as to what constituted a marriage.[64] John P. Beal says the Council, "stung by the Protestant reformers' castigation of the Catholic Church's failure to extirpate clandestine marriages", issued the decree,[65] "to safeguard against invalid marriages and abuses in clandestine marriages",[66] which had become "the scourge of Europe".[67] In 1215 the Fourth Lateran Council had prohibited marriages entered into clandestinely but, unless there was some other impediment, considered them valid though illicit. Tametsi made it a requirement even for validity, in any area where the decree was officially published, that the marriage take place in the presence of the parish priest and at least two witnesses.[68] This revolutionised earlier practice in that "marriages that failed to meet these requirements would from the time of the promulgation of the decree be considered invalid and of no effect" and required that the priest keep written records, with the result that parents had more control over their children's marriages than before. It also instituted controls over the marriages of persons without fixed addresses ("vagrants are to be married with caution"), "regulated the times at which marriages could be celebrated, abolished the rule that sexual intercourse created affinity, and reiterated the ban on concubinage".[69][70]

For fear that the decree would "identify and multiply the number of doubtful marriages, particularly in Protestant areas, where 'mixed' marriages were common", the council hesitated to impose it outright and decided to make its application dependent on local promulgation. In fact, Tametsi was never proclaimed worldwide. It had no effect in France, England, Scotland and many other countries[71] and in 1907 was replaced by the decree Ne Temere, which came into effect universally at Easter 1908.[65][72][73]

Validity of marriage in the Catholic Church[edit]

Mosaic depicting the wedding feast in Cana
Marriage without religious rite
Betrothal and marriage around 1200
"Pope Paul III" (Artist: Titian) 1490–1576, c. 1543, Reign 13 October 1534 – 10 November 1549, Presided over part of the Council of Trent

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