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Re: Part Three of the Course, Fourth Assignment, Question 1
by Eileen Rettig - Monday, 6 August 2012, 6:29 PM

The evolution of the sacramental marriage within the Roman Church has been interesting both historically and theologically. While it was not clearly instituted by Jesus, scholars from the Apostolic age on have maintained that passages in two of the three synoptic gospels (Lk 16:18 and Mk 10:1-12) show he raised marriage to a higher standard than was usual for that society. No records exist of any particular religious ritual for marriage in Second Temple Judaism: therefore, the early Christians followed the civil practices of their regions. The patristic fathers had mixed sentiments about marriage, many believed that the Parousia was about to occur and marriage was preferable only to committing acts of fornication. Other early theologians used sections of Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians to demonstrate that marriage was a symbol of Christ’s relationship to the Church and therefore sacred. But there is no record of a single ritual for solemnizing the union between two Christians.

Several of the gnostic heresies during the patristic age managed to demean the material world, particularly sexual relationships, even between couples married according to the civil laws of the Roman Empire. It was during this period that Augustine of Hippo wrote extensively on marriage. His interpretation leaned heavily on Ephesians 5. He came to the conclusion that since Christian marriage mirrors Christ’s relationship with the Church, marriage must be a sacramentum, a sacred thing. Augustine, himself, was probably ambivalent about human sexual relations. He was strongly influenced by Manichaeism, a form of Gnosticism that declared the material world evil, and yet before his conversion he had two concubines and at least one son. After his conversion he led a celibate life.

Augustine also made the connection between the permanence of the character of Baptism and the indissolubility of Christian marriage. He argued that even though people were dipped in water and baptized prior to Jesus’ great command to the disciples, it was that great command that gave Christian Baptism its unique character. Likewise, even though marriage existed for as long as humanity (in his mind), it was Jesus’ declarations found in Luke and Mark that gave Christian marriage its permanent character.

Divorce was a persistent problem within the Church. After the disintegration of the Western Roman Empire the bishops tended to be both the civil and ecclesial authorities in the provinces. This led to a legal interpretation of what conditions were necessary for a marriage which was considered both a legal matter and sacramental. Of necessity the ecclesial authorities combined the differing customs of the remnant of the Roman culture with the German tribes who invaded the western borders of the empire. Gradually marriage ceremonies moved from the town or village to the church. Members of the clergy moved from honored guests to presiders over the ceremony. Finally the Roman Church declared that for a marriage to be sacramental it had to be performed in a church and performed by a member of the clergy. The ancient Roman requirement of the mutual consent of the couple constituting a legal marriage was adopted as the sacramentum. The requirement of the ceremony being officiated by a member of the clergy in front of two witnesses met the Germanic customs of a public ceremony.

When the scholastics began to look at the sacraments they assumed that since the marriage ritual occurred in church and Augustine had used the term sacramentum to describe it, it was one of the Sacraments of the Church. The scholastics were then able to neatly fit the elements of the sacrament of Matrimony into the categories of sacramentum et res, res tantum. This never addressed the problem of divorce but since many marriages were arranged by parents or guardians and the woman had very few legal rights divorce was not a major issue.

The reformers, leaning heavily on the societal history of marriage and the lack of a clear scriptural scene in which Jesus instituted marriage declared that while it was a good thing for marriage to take place in a church, it was not a sacrament. The Council of Trent again reaffirmed the scholastic theological theories but also increased the ability of Catholics to seek annulments. An annulment being the declaration that a sacramental marriage between a specific couple

As the modern era continued many changes in society caused people to question the Church’s stand on marriage, its primary purpose (procreation) and its indissolubility. In the educated, industrial nations of the west the connections to extended families stretched. Couples married for love and not as arranged by family members. Divorce became more common place and the civil laws of many nations relaxed the long recognized grounds of adultery and desertion for civil divorce. The Church appeared to be unresponsive to the changing needs of society, until John XXIII called the first ecumenical council of the Catholic Church in one hundred years.

GRADE 3.5 (Thorough and accurate, but not evaluative.)

(Edited by Dr. Joe - original submission Thursday, 2 August 2012, 12:17 AM)