Marriage is consent, commitment, consummation, and communication. You can’t have a genuine marriage without all of them. It is not marriage if there is no consent (of the couple and until recent years, the fathers). Without commitment, even a state-approved wedding is simply a “living arrangement” that is sorry, sordid, and sad–also sin. It is no more than “registered cohabitation.” Just had to mention that; but while people and times change, principles do not. If the marriage is not consummated, then it is not a marriage. Finally, the marriage must be communicated to the community. Secret marriages have been legal at times but were never right.
Up until the reign of Justinian (527-565 AD), simply saying you were married was enough to establish a family. The famous Code of Justinian set some parameters for the family: any man could take a concubine but she had to be at least 12 years old. When a man lived with a free woman, it was not considered concubinage but genuine matrimony if she did not acquire financial gain by selling her body.
In 866 AD, Pope Nicholas I said “Let the simple consent of those whose wedding is in question be sufficient; if the consent be lacking in a marriage, all other celebrations, even should the union be consummated, are rendered void.” Consent was what made marriages valid and endorsed by the Roman Catholic Church, then a power throughout Europe. There was no church involvement in marriages until about the ninth century other than Pope Nicholas’ decree and after the twelfth century prayers were added to the ceremony often by the bride and groom.
Up to the twelfth century, a consummated marriage was considered valid if the couple had pledged their love and commitment to each other even without any civil or church involvement or approval. Roman Catholic Church leaders thought that such an arrangement was far better than concubinage or jumping from bed to bed like a deranged rabbit. A consummated and committed marriage would also tend to repel seducers.
Then in 1215 the Roman Catholic Church required all churches in England and Wales to publish banns (a proclamation) three Sundays before any wedding. That period of time permitted objections to be made such as an accusation that one of the two was already married or underage, or they were closely related, etc. Furthermore, the marriage had to be performed in their parish church. In the 1300s, if a couple wanted to marry quickly, the church instituted a license (permission) for the banns to be avoided. The license also permitted them to be married in another parish as well. Of course, there was a fee required accompanied by a sworn declaration that there was no canonical reason to prohibit the marriage.
Many then perceived marriage by banns as a second-class ceremony; consequently, that led to an increase in the number of marriages by license. Most of the marriages done with a license were for special purposes such as a wedding done outside the usual hours for weddings or in a church not normally approved for weddings. These weddings could be done quickly without waiting three weeks to have the marriage announced in church. Another perceived benefit was confidentiality since some people did not want the town to know that they did not have an approved wedding years earlier.
After the twelfth century, Church approval of marriages was required and after 1563 a priest was required at every wedding. Peasants in some European countries were required to have permission of the lord of the manor and in some places the lord reserved the right to spend the wedding night with the bride. Just one of his perks.
Then the Council of Trent, organized as a frantic response to the Reformation in the mid-1500s, also took up the problem of secret or “clandestine” marriages without satisfying those people who were for or against. The French wanted to outlaw all secret marriages and marriages without parental approval, but the Council refused to make parental approval a requisite for valid marriages. Secret marriages were very popular because young people wanted to choose their own spouses rather than have parents choose. A young girl whose parents had arranged her marriage at birth, would say, “But, Mom, I was secretly married last year.” However, the Council did abolish secret marriages where only the bride and groom were present.
Such secret marriages had been recognized as “true marriages,” but there were problems. It was common for a man to secretly marry then change his mind after a few months or years. He met another woman and then publicly married her with all the necessary requirements met. However, he was already secretly married and had two children. What about his responsibilities to them? His former wife could not prove their secret marriage and was stranded up a creek in a leaking canoe without a paddle, along with two hungry, screaming children! How could a court hold a man accountable without some proof of the secret marriage? If the court came to her defense, supported only by her word, then all marriages could be in danger. An unscrupulous woman could choose an attractive married man and charge that he was her secret mate. It was a can of worms.
The problem was an old one. When a couple had problems and split, there was no way for the aggrieved party to prove his or her marriage by an independent witness. The Council sought to solve this oft-occurring problem by decreeing that if a couple admitted to a secret marriage it was considered a “grave sin” and they were required to renew their vows in the local church attended by three witnesses, one of them being the local priest. The priest did not make the marriage valid; the man and woman did that with vows of commitment. The priest was there as a representative of the Church and registered the marriage. The priest was often the only person in town who could read and write so he was a natural choice to keep a record of important events such as marriage.
The Council of Trent declared that people who had been secretly married would be considered married as long as the marriages were not invalidated by the Roman Catholic Church. Then the Council required that a marriage announcement must be published each Sunday for three consecutive weeks so that a planned marriage could be forbidden if anyone had a legitimate reason to prohibit the wedding. Finally the Council said that a marriage was not valid if anyone tried to be married without a priest (or his designate) as witness along with two other witnesses.
The Roman Church pushed its way further into the homes by requiring local priests to keep records of all baptisms and deaths as well as weddings. The grip was getting tighter and tighter and it must be remembered that in the Middle Ages in Europe, the Pope was literally over every person including the “sovereign” kings.
While the Council of Trent was agonizing with their decisions and trying to untie a Gordian Knot, the Protestant Reformers had declared that a public marriage was one that was consented to by the couples’ parents. If not, it was a clandestine or secret marriage and invalid. They took the position that a church was limited in its authority and that marriage is a fundamental right of an individual so only two people could create a marriage and did so by their public consent.
During the reign of England’s Henry VIII (1509 to 1547), marriage licenses were provided by the Archbishop of Canterbury (actually by King Henry) after 1534. Before that date, the Pope issued licenses. A common license permitted a couple to be married at their parish church while a special license permitted t a couple to be married any place. A special license was required for anyone not a member of an Anglican Church. Religious separatists were not pleased with that requirement and refused to obey it.
The Marriage Act of 1753 (full title, An Act for the Better Preventing of Clandestine Marriage) in England and Wales took control of marriage from the hands of family and vested it in the state. From the point at which the law took effect in 1754, marriages which had not taken place in the Church of England, Quaker Meetings or Jewish synagogues, were rendered invalid. This was the first time legislation required a formal marriage ceremony in England and Wales. This caused major problems with dissident Christians (Baptists) who held strong beliefs about marriage and strong reservations about state control and interference in their homes. The parents of an underage couple had to get a license from the government and the ceremony had to take place in a Church of England. Any future children were not permitted an inheritance if those conditions were not met by everyone, including Baptists.
This effectively did away with secret marriages and gave government more control which is common for all governments.
Baptists refused to obey the law that required marriages to be controlled by the state and Baptists and other groups are doing the same today: Government, stay out of our most important and sacred traditions. It is a legitimate marriage if there is consent, commitment, consummation, and communication in any little church in the dale and needs no one’s permission!
We don’t need or want, nor will we permit the government in our weddings.
(Fourth of nine columns dealing with no state involvement in marriage. Next column: “Marriage Makes Rude, Crude, and Lewd Men into Softies!”)
http://bit.ly/1iMLVfY Watch these 8 minute videos of my lecture at the University of North Dakota: “A Christian Challenges New Atheists to Put Up or Shut Up!”
Fact, Fraud or Faith?
by Don Boys, Ph.D.
Only an uninformed fanatic says that evolution or creation can be proved scientifically. Christians believe in creationism because we believe in the veracity of the Bible but we also have scientific evidence to support our position. In every debate I’ve had with evolutionary scientists, the arrogant, asinine accusation is made, “Well, evolution is scientific while creationism is religion.” Evolution is about as scientific as a voodoo rooster plucking ceremony in Haiti. Almost.