Friday, 2 April 2010

The origins of sanctity of marriage

In The Knight, The Lady, and the Priest, Georges Duby, historian and medievist, analyses the transformations of occidental society between the Xth and the XIIth centuries, with some focus on the marriage institution.

During this period of time, a new feudal system was progressively put in place and a new balance of power was found in the occidental kingdoms. As a consequence, the patrilineal transmission of domains and titles began to become the rule; to sustain this societal change, it was necessary to make the marriage more rigid, notably by disallowing the common practice of divorces, marriages by rapt, and repudiations.

And that's where the Church intervenes. Previously, the Christian religion didn't care much about marriage. Jesus didn't -- he declared that in the kingdom of God, there will be no husbands or wives; actually he didn't care much about family values in general (see Luke 14:26 for example). Paul, the co-founder of Christianism, wasn't very concerned either: it's better to be married than to burn, did he wrote, but it was clear that the true Christian was to be celibate in his mind.

So the Church started to introduce during the XIth century mandatory marriage blessings, and then, a couple generations later, full-fledged ceremonies. Pope Gregory VII forbid the marriage or even concubinage of priests. Marriages that were not approved by a priest were declared invalid. Nobles, even kings, were excommunicated when they didn't follow the new rules. Progressively it became a sacrament.

There was some resistance to the new institutions; as usual in those Christian times, they took the form of heresy, although the heretics, this time, weren't the reformers, but the traditionalists.

This new form of marriage has stuck until us. But remember: when someone talks about sanctity of marriage, he's actually speaking about an opportunist theological innovation invented by some French and Italian bishops during the eleventh century for purely political reasons.


Ovid said...

Ooh, I think I'm going to want this book. It sounds absolutely fascinating. And perhaps it's a nice counter-point to the idiotic marriage debates.

sawyer said...


Robert said...

"Jesus didn't"

You have a very bad understanding of the Bible if you think Jesus didn't care about marriage. It is easy to take scripture out of context and make it mean what you want. Jesus was answering the Pharisees when he made that statement because they were trying to trap him. They don't by the way. Jesus, in fact corrects people when talking about divorce even saying that in the beginning God made "man and woman" and that was his design for marriage. One man, one woman, for life. The whole NT of the Bible describes marriage as a picture of Christ and the church.

Nice try though.

adrock20 said...

See Matthew 19:3-8

nnis said...

The Bible talks quite a bit about relationships, families, adultery, faithfulness and so on. What is absent from the Bible is the church acting as a gatekeeper of who could marry, when and where. Jews didn't go to the temple and ask the priest permission to get married. Marriage was a strictly civil affair (of course with some moral expectations depending on the people involved). If you wanted to get married the two families involved would get to an agreement, and that was it; no religious institution controlling the transaction. I would welcome people stop getting married in church and just legalize their tax, property and children situation before the state. They can then pray to God for a blessing wherever and whenever they want.