Christianity Knowledge Base

The Christian view of marriage, until recently, according to a nearly universal consensus, has regarded marriage as ordained by God for the lifelong union of one man and one woman. Since the rise of the sexual revolution, such views have gained ground among Christians. Marriage between two persons of the same gender, or divorce through mutual consent are both new views brought on by the sexual revolution. These views, though now popular in the modern day, conflict with and are contradicting to orthodox beliefs.

Proponents of the traditional view principally support it with the second chapter of the book of Genesis. The Gospel of Matthew, for example, cites Genesis 2:24, for example:

"And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. Matthew 19:4-6

Virtually all Christian denominations frown on divorce, although some more harshly than others.

Christian marriage is seen by Paul of Tarsus (Ephesians chapter 5) as paralleling the relationship between Christ and the Church, a theological view which is a development of the Old Testament view that saw a parallel between marriage and the relationship between God and Israel.

All major Christian groups take marriage to be a good thing. In 1 Timothy, Chapter 4, St. Paul talks of heretics who, among other things, "forbid marriage" and he describes their views as "doctrines of demons". At the same time, even though marriage is believed to be a good thing, Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy traditionally see an even greater value in celibacy when that celibacy is undertaken for the sake of a more singleminded devotion to God, but believe that not everyone has this calling from God and acknowlege marriage is preferred by most people.

Catholic view[]

In Roman Catholicism, marriage is one of the seven sacraments. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition, Paragraph 1623, "the spouses as ministers of Christ's grace mutually confer upon each other the sacrament of Matrimony by expressing their consent before the Church". An argument for the institution of the sacrament of Matrimony by Christ himself, and its occasion, is advanced by Bernard Orchard in his article The Betrothal and Marriage of Mary to Joseph [1]. In the Eastern Rite churches, "the priests (bishops or presbyters) are witnesses to the mutual consent given by the spouses, but for the validity of the sacrament their blessing is also necessary".

Marriage forms the foundation of the family, the fundamental unit of the referring community (ordinarily the parish). The ideal references are found in the Holy Family (Virgin Mary, and Saint Joseph, his father). See related articles of Canon law: [2] (Latin).

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. [3] The secondary aim is the mutual reciprocal help and it is also a "remedy to concupiscence". Fecundity is a good, a gift and an end of marriage. By giving life, spouses participate in God's fatherhood. Carnal union is morally legitimate only when a definitive community of life between a man and woman has been established. Human love does not tolerate "trial marriages". It demands a total and definitive gift of persons to one another.

If the couple cohabit, the marriage is presumed consummatum, unless a proof of the contrary is produced.

Traditionally, sexual intercourse was termed the marriage debt. This refers to the idea that marriage is a contract where each party assumes total control of the other's body. At almost any time, within reason, a partner's asking for the fulfilment of that debt had to be satisfied. Like any repayment of a debt, when done with the right intention and circumstances sexual intercourse is a meritorious act, gaining graces for the participants. In modern times, however, the church has taught a far less severe view of obligatory fulfillment, where it is understood that both spouses intend, by accepting the sacrament of marriage, to fulfill the reproductive moral mandate at some point in their marriage, but not on the demand or whim of one spouse, nor under any circumstance should a spouse ever be forced to comply against their will (rape), even if failure to do so led to never having children/lack of fulfillment.

One issue is marriages with one of spouses belonging to a non-Christian religion (called the impediment "disparity of cult" - Catechism of the Catholic Church 1633): these marriages are not sacraments, since the letter of Canon law expressly defines the marriage as a "covenant" between baptized spouses. Still, a marriage between non-baptized spouses is called legitimum when validly celebrated, but it is really not encouraged.

Polygamy is described as "not in accord with the moral law". Conjugal communion is radically contradicted by polygamy; this, in fact, directly negates the plan of God which was revealed from the beginning, because it is contrary to the equal personal dignity of men and women who in matrimony give themselves with a love that is total and therefore unique and exclusive." Roman Catholic teaching holds that even the Patriarchs were breaking the natural law with their polygamy, although God created an exception for them.

Information on Roman Catholic annullments - Diocese of San Jose Annulment Tribunal - Catholic divorce - Catholic Familyland - In Vatican website, catechism contents about marriage and divorce

Orthodox view[]

In Eastern Orthodoxy, marriage is also treated as a sacrament, and as an ordination, and (like all ordinations) like a martyrdom, as each spouse learns to die to himself or herself for the sake of the other. Like all ordinations, it is viewed as revealing and sealing the relationship that has formed between the couple. In addition, marriage is an icon or image of the relationship between Jesus and the Church. This is somewhat akin to the Old Testament prophets' use of marriage as an analogy to describe the relationship between God and Israel. Divorce is discouraged, but allowed, in some cases to acknowledge that the relationship no longer exists. A lay member may obtain permission to remarry under the counsel of a priest, but the ceremony and prayers would be different, less joyful and more sober and sombre.

A married man may be ordained as a priest or deacon. However, a priest or deacon is not permitted to enter into matrimony after ordination, whether he has become divorced or widowed, or even if he had not been married at the time of ordination. Bishops are always celibate.

Overall, there is a far less legislative approach regarding married life than in Roman Catholicism.

Protestant view[]

Protestant denominations tend to have their own individually applicable doctrines, which represent only the churches in communion with one another. However, some beliefs are typical of almost all Protestants. And, there are intra-denominational and cross-denominational movements, within which the beliefs and practices of adherents are more narrowly defined.

Protestants typically acknowledge a difference between the sacraments of Baptism and Communion, and all other ordinances of God by which the favor of God is shown to men. Almost all Protestant denominations hold marriage to be ordained by God for the union between a man and a woman, based on the passage from Matthew above. Most of them also hold that the primary purpose of this union is to glorify God by demonstrating his love to the world; other purposes of marriage include the raising of children and bringing help to enable both husband and wife to fulfill their life callings. Most Protestants are less likely to hold a negative view of birth control and many see sexual pleasure within marriage as a gift of God.

See also:

Evangelical Protestant view[]

In addition to the limitations on who may marry (discussed above), evangelicals take a strict view of the nature of marriage. For evangelicals, marriage is the only appropriate channel for sexual expression and divorce is permissible, if at all, only in very specific circumstances such as infidelity. Marriage is seen as a solemn covenant between the couple and God. The man is seen as the head of the household and his wife is expected to submit to him. However, there are two views within evangelicalism of how this should work out in practice:

  • The traditionalist or complementarian view sees the husband as having loving authority over the wife as the servant-leader of the household in following with Christ's example. The wife's role is to cheerfully submit to this authority where it does not conflict with her conscience or with biblical teaching. Together these form a beautiful picture of Christ's relationship with the chrurch (see Ephesians 5).
  • The egalitarian view sees the husband's headship as meaning he is the source who works to ensure his wife's growth and development as a person. The wife's submission is seen in the context of Paul's injunction (in Ephesians 5.21) for all Christians to submit to one another.

Proponents of both views emphasise that headship and submission are worked out in the context that a husband is expected to protect and care for his wife and put her needs before his own. These principles reflect the concept that Christ is the head of the Church, or those who call themselves His followers, and loves her even to the point of dying for her.

Liberal Protestant view[]

Liberal christians, almost by definition, give a great deal of consideration to cultural norms. In the Western world, pre-marital sex, same-sex marriage (and to some extent homosexuality in general) and divorce are increasingly common and so liberal Protestants have become increasingly tolerant of these practices. While liberals view divorce as regrettable, they generally do not label divorcees as "sinners." Likewise, pre-marital sex may be considered to be unwise, but since it is sufficiently widespread, it is sometimes considered to be tolerable. Ever since the rise of feminism liberals also generally reject claims of males as the head of the family and tend to see the husband and wife as a partnership of equals.

External links[]

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