Asking All the Wrong Questions about Marriage–Part 2

Asking the wrong question “Who can be legally married?” leads us to wrong answers.  Instead, we need to remember the original purpose and definition of marriage being one man and one woman becoming “one flesh” to the glory of God.  God both established and defined marriage.

Society now circumscribes–through a series of written laws–something like marriage, just without God.

The redefinition of marriage began.   

In Part 1 we traced the history of marriage from Bible times to the Middle Ages.  Now we will explore six of the watershed events resulting in the legal code that we see today in Europe and America.

1.  Ironically, the great concern over mutual consent was the first of six pivotal events that determined the course of Western marriage as we know it.  

Mutual consent can be considered pivotal because marriage shifted from a family-endorsed social structure with dual purpose (religious and social) to an individual decision apart from a religious framework or social benefit.  This was not a bad thing since many families arranged marriages for completely political or worldly reasons.  But a shift from community to individual paved the way for future changes.

Mutual consent was an issue because, under Germanic law in the 5th to 9th centuries A.D., marriage didn’t require the bride’s consent at all.  The families arranged a Brautkauf or bride-purchase agreement in which the groom consented and the bride was assumed to consent by her family.  Originally, a nuptial pretium (a certain amount of property or money) was contracted as the purchase price given to the father or guardian of the bride-to-be.  Eventually, to combat the idea of a wife as purchased property, the nuptial pretium became a sum given to the bride as her security should her husband die prematurely.

At this point, we’re in the central and late Middle Ages and the Catholic Church altered Germanic marital practice to insist upon direct, free, and fully mutual consent by both parties in the marriage.  To ensure that the union was by mutual consent, the Church established the suggestion that unions be blessed.

A religious blessing became part of the union and occasionally the Catholic Church threatened to excommunicate any persons who married without the blessings of the local priest.  Given that the position of women (prior to the Catholic canonists) was extremely low in Frankish tribes, the mutual consent aspect was a good development.

It took significant time for divorce—common in Germanic law—to be abolished by the spread of Catholicism.  In the Frankish tribes, legal matters (including marriage related issues such as adultery, divorce, etc.) were typically resolved by ordeal–an ordeal being by fire, water, combat, etc.  Eventually a system of compensation—the giving of money to satisfy grievances—was encouraged by the Catholic Church to curb violence and paved the way for the development of the system of indulgences.  For those of you who know Reformation history, the system of indulgences eventually became one of Martin Luther’s hot button issues.

Join me on the next page for the next watershed moment, marriage as a sacrament.

Pages: 1 2 3 4

Categories Articles, Articles and Devotionals | Tags: | Posted on July 30, 2012

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  1. by Emily ZR

    On July 31, 2012

    Barbara, thanks for this insightful and far-reaching essay. very very informative. what were some of the sources that got you thinking about this?

  2. by seminarygal

    On July 31, 2012

    I’m not a prophet, but I have been greatly concerned about the path we are headed on in the US as Christians sit on the sidelines with our hands in our pockets. Afraid of being called “intolerant” or stupid or whatever, we’ve retreated from asking hard theological and legal questions about where the US is going with issues such as (recently) gay marriage, contraception, religious freedom, abortion, health care, etc. I began my Wrong Questions series with Patriarchy, then Rights and Freedom, followed by Marriage and my next article will be an in-depth look at Asking the Wrong Questions about Homosexuality.

    All one has to do is listen to the news to see that we are approaching a point of no return. If we don’t change direction, we’re likely to end up where we’re headed.

  3. by seminarygal

    On July 31, 2012

    Oh, and not to leave out the obvious answer to all questions: Jesus! 🙂
    God has had me researching marriage for over a month with a stack of books a mile high. Finally, the promptings of the Holy Spirit were starting to keep me awake at night so I pushed the “publish” button. 😀

  4. by seminarygal

    On July 31, 2012

    And one more thought…most of the books I’ve looked at were dealing with the development of the law and religious freedom from a legal perspective in the West (US specifically). Being more of a theology person, I couldn’t help but see these in light of the development of religion.

    Don’t you find it interesting that if redefining marriage to include the GLBT relationships was a matter of true civil/human rights, they’d be pursuing this classification worldwide and not just in the Judeo-Christian world? If it’s a human right, why aren’t they pursuing civil marriages for homosexuals in countries that have Islamic ties?

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