THE CHRISTIAN FAITH: AN INTRODUCTION TO DOGMATIC THEOLOGY - By CLAUDE BEAUFORT MOSS, D.D.LONDON - S.P.C.K 1965 Holy Trinity Church  Marylbone Road London NW 1 - Printed in Great Britain by Richard Clay (The Chaucer Press) Ltd  Bungay Suffolk - First published in 1943 - Prepared for katapi by Paul Ingram 2004.




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HOME | contents | Marriage: sacrament-natural condition | natural condition | natural law of M confirmed by revelation | natural M lifelong | M as a Sacrament | grace & purpose | validity-regularity

I. Marriage as a Sacrament and as a Natural Condition

Marriage is the only sacrament that is also a natural condition. 
It is called a sacrament because St. Paul speaks of it as a great mystery (Eph.5.32),
and sacrament is the Latin translation of MYSTERY
We must distinguish between Christian Marriage which is a sacrament;
Natural Marriage which becomes sacramental
when those who have entered into it become Christians;
and marriage in the sense of a sexual union of any kind
which is recognized by the civil law. 
Although the last of these three is commonly called "marriage"
(as in Westermarck's History of Human Marriage),
it is not necessarily either natural or honourable
and will in this chapter be called not "marriage" but UNION
There are forms of UNION that are sinful
not only for Christians but also for non-Christians.

II. Definition of Marriage as a Natural Condition

Marriage properly so called is

A union which is not EXCLUSIVE,
whether polygamy (two or more wives to one man)
or polyandry (two or more husbands to one wife),
or which is not PERMANENT,
is not marriage but concubinage.

Marriage, defined as a monogamous union that is exclusive and permanent,
is the natural form of union for human beings. 
[Monogamous, of one man and one woman.]
It is based on two natural facts:
that men and women are roughly equal in numbers,
therefore marriage must be monogamous;
and that children require years of parental care before they can look after themselves,
therefore marriage must be permanent. 
It is found in some of the most primitive races such as the Veddas of Ceylon. 
The saying of our Lord, that divorce (He might have added polygamy) was permitted for the hardness of men's hearts, but in the beginning it was not so (St. Mark 10.5), appears to be confirmed by the researches of the anthropologists into the customs of primitive man. 
Other forms of union are corruptions due to sin:
to lust, or idleness, or war, or superstition, or covetousness.

The family is the basis of human society,
and the natural family is founded on marriage as defined above. 
Whatever weakens marriage weakens the family. 
Whatever weakens the family loosens the bonds of human society. 
Breaches of the law of marriage are contrary to natural morality,
like murder, theft, and lying.

III. Natural Law of Marriage Confirmed by Revelation

Our Lord gave the sanction of revelation to the natural law of marriage. 
His teaching on the subject is found in Mark 10.2-12; Matt.5.32, 19.3-12; Luke 16.18.

Polygamy is nowhere directly forbidden in the Bible. 
Polyandry was unknown to the Hebrews, as it was also to the Greeks and Romans.
[It is chiefly found in certain Himalayan tribes.]
But our Lord's teaching assumes that there is only one husband and only one wife.
So does St. Paul's teaching, for he compares marriage to the union between Christ and His Church (Eph.5.23-32). 
Consequently the Christian Church has always forbid polygamy and polyandry, although polygamy was permitted by the Jews, and in the East sometimes practiced for many centuries after Christ.

In modern times the prohibition of polygamy has always been a great obstacle to the progress of the Gospel in Africa. 
But the experience of missionaries has shown that it is fatal to allow any departure from the Christian standard. 
The rule accepted by most Christian missions is that a polygamous wife may be baptized and continue to live in polygamy, but a polygamous husband may only be baptized on his death bed unless he puts away his wives;
which is not always possible, for in African conditions that may be to abandon them to starve or become harlots.

Our Lord also declared that marriage could not be dissolved. 
The apparent exception in St. Matthew will be discussed in the next chapter. 
In St. Mark and St. Luke no exception is given. 
St. Paul's teaching assumes that marriage is indissoluble.

IV. Natural Marriage is Lifelong

Marriage is a CONTRACT to enter into a natural state of life,
and the contract is fulfilled when the marriage is consummated. 
The two persons are then ONE FLESH in a natural state that continues as long as they are both alive. 
But it is the consent,
not the consummation,
which makes the union a marriage. 
A union in which there is not free consent, or in which either party does not intend the union to be exclusive and permanent, is not marriage;
and such a union is concubinage, which is forbidden to Christians.

The marriage of persons who have not been baptized is not sacramental,
but it is a true marriage. 
If they are baptized or one of them is baptized after marriage,
their marriage becomes sacramental. 
But married persons who are not Christians (that is, not baptized),
though their marriage is not sacramental,
are bound by the natural law to be faithful to one another until death.

V. Marriage as a Sacrament:
Subject, Matter, Form, Minister, Intention

has no outward visible sign commanded by God,
and is not therefore a sacrament of like nature with Baptism and the Eucharist. 
But it is commonly numbered among the sacraments
and is even called a sacrament in the Elizabethan HOMILIES.

The SUBJECTS of Christian marriage are baptized persons not hindered by DIRIMENT IMPEDIMENTS
An impediment is called "diriment" when it makes the marriage invalid. 
There are also impediments, which only make it irregular.

The diriment impediments are these:

  1. Previous marriage to someone who is still alive;
  2. Prohibited degrees of kindred and affinity (to be dealt with in pp. 4258);
  3. Physical incapacity (that is, inability to perform the functions of marriage);
  4. Mental incapacity (such as insanity or imbecility);
  5. Compulsion. 

If one of the parties is already married, or too nearly related to the other, or does not know what he or she is doing (is drunk, for instance, or too young to understand), or is acting under fear of violence, the marriage is no marriage.

In the Roman Communion, Holy Orders and a vow of celibacy are diriment impediments, but not in the Anglican Communion. 
A professed member of a religious order (such as a monk or nun) who breaks the vow of celibacy (without dispensation) by marrying commits a grave sin. 
But whereas the Roman Communion regards such a marriage as no marriage, the English Church regards it as a valid marriage, though sinful.  (The plot of a novel by Donn Byrne turned on this point. 
The heroine was a runaway nun; but as he made her a runaway Anglican nun, his assumption that the bishop would treat her marriage as invalid was a mistake.)

The MATTER of marriage differs in different countries. 
With us it is the ring and the handclasp.

The FORM of marriage is consent in the presence of witnesses. 
In the Middle Ages this was considered sufficient,
but both civil law and ecclesiastical law have imposed further conditions
in order to prevent secret marriages. 
In any case the marriage is invalid if there are no witnesses,
both by ecclesiastical and civil law.

The bridegroom and the bride are the MINISTERS of marriage.
[Not in the Eastern churches which regard the priest as the minister of marriage.] 
The priest gives them the blessing of the Church,
but a civil marriage without any priest is a valid sacramental marriage if the parties are baptized, and if they intend their marriage to be permanent and exclusive. 
But as the civil law now permits dissolution of marriage for several reasons,
and as the false notion that marriage can be dissolved is now so widely spread as to make the Christian rule appear strange even to many practicing Christians,
there must be many civil marriages
which are not intended to be permanent
and are consequently invalid spiritually though valid legally. 
It is in any case most undesirable that members of the Church
should be married without the blessing of the Church,
and those who have been married at a registry office
should be urged to have their marriage blessed in church.

The Council of Trent made a rule that marriages should in future be invalid unless a priest blessed them. 
This rule, of course, applies only to members of the Roman Communion,
but the consequence of it is that Rome does not recognize civil marriage
or marriage in a non-Roman Church if either of the married pair is a Romanist. 
Persons who have contracted such a marriage, if Romanists,
are regarded as living in sin and treated accordingly. 
It was on this ground that the Pope consented to Napoleon's repudiation of Josephine:
their marriage had been a civil one.

VI. The Grace and the Purpose of Marriage

The INWARD SPIRITUAL GRACE of marriage is the power needed to enable those who marry to fulfil the purposes of marriage, which are duties so difficult and so responsible that it is amazing that any Christian should undertake them without expecting Divine help.

1. Procreation of Children, the Bodily Purpose

(τέλος σωματικόν)
The first purpose of marriage
is the procreation and care of children
who are immortal spirits created by God for union with Himself. 
It is the duty of the parents to bring children into the world
(to avoid the responsibility of parenthood
is to sin against themselves, against the community, and against God);
to provide for the needs of their bodies, minds, and souls;
to see that they are baptized, confirmed, and taught the Christian religion;
and to set them an example of holy living.

2. Hallowing of Sex, the Purpose for the Soul

(τέλος ψυχικόν)
The second purpose of marriage
is to hallow and to satisfy the instinct of sex, which God has given us,
and which, like every other natural instinct, is to be kept under strict control
and used only for the glory of God and in accordance with His commands.

3. Mutual Love, the Spiritual Purpose

(τέλος πνευματικόν)
The third purpose of marriage
is the love, support, and help that the husband and wife are to give to one another in every department of their lives.

VII. Conditions of Validity and Regularity

Christian marriage is valid -
that is, recognized by the Church -
if it fulfils the following conditions. 
The parties must be free from any diriment impediment (see above);
they must declare their intention that the marriage shall be exclusive and permanent, which they will have to do if they are married with the Anglican service;
and the marriage must be in accordance with the requirements of the civil law. 
The reason for this is not only the general rule that the civil law must be obeyed when it is not contrary to Divine commands, but also that in this case, if it is not obeyed, there is a strong presumption that the couple do not intend their marriage to be permanent, for a marriage which is invalid by civil law can easily be repudiated.

The civil law of England requires the officiating minister to be in Anglican Orders,
or, if not, specially empowered to officiate. 
If he is not ordained or licensed to perform marriages, the marriage is invalid. 
The marriage of persons under sixteen is not recognized by the civil law.

Both the canon and the civil law also require the following conditions for a regular marriage. [Canon 62.]
To omit them is a punishable offence,
but it does not make the marriage invalid.

The banns must be published -
that is, notice of the marriage must be given in church on three successive Sundays. 
This can be avoided by means of a license, which is an Episcopal dispensation from the requirement of banns. 
Licenses are of two kinds:
the ordinary license which is issued by the bishop through the diocesan registry and through certain priests called SURROGATES, and which is simply a dispensation from the publication of banns;
and the special license which can only be obtained from the Archbishop of Canterbury (it is a relic of the medieval position of the Archbishop as legatus natus, or permanent representative, of the Pope), and which is a dispensation from all rules about the time and place of marriages. 
It costs ?30 and is given only for urgent reasons.

The parties to the marriage, if under twenty-one, must have their parents, consent or at least that of a magistrate. 
The marriage must take place in a church recognized for the purpose (as all Anglican parish churches are, but not school chapels, etc.),
or in a registry office,
and between eight in the morning and six in the evening.

MIXED MARRIAGE is by canon law an impediment to marriage,
but it is not recognized by civil law. 
If one or both parties are unbaptized and are unwilling to receive baptism
(with of course the necessary instruction) before their marriage,
they should be advised to be married in a registry office. 
The marriage of an unbaptized person in church requires, by canon law, special permission from the bishop. 
The priest should never consent to publish banns without evidence that both persons have been baptized.

Marriage between persons of different Christian communions should be discouraged, as experience shows that the result is often unhappiness or indifference to religion.
But if both parties are baptized Christians, the priest must not refuse to marry them.

Marriages in which one party is a Romanist create special difficulties. 
The Roman Communion forbids its members to marry non-Romanists unless they have a dispensation;
and dispensations are given only on conditions that are most humiliating to the non-Romanist bridegroom or bride.
[A promise must be given that all the children shall be brought up to be Romanists and that there shall be no attempt to convert the Romanist spouse (but no promise the other way). 
The marriage must be in a Romanist church, and there must be no additional ceremony in any other church.]
If they ignore the prohibition and marry in a non-Romanist church or in a registry office, Rome regards the marriage as no marriage and the couple as living in sin. 
An Anglican priest who is asked to perform such a marriage should point this out and should, if he thinks it expedient, try to persuade the Romanist party to the marriage to join the English Church formally (receiving, of course, the necessary instruction) before the wedding. 
It cannot be right to encourage a Romanist who wishes to remain a Romanist to break the laws of the Roman Communion. 
No Anglican priest should undertake such a responsibility without going thoroughly into all the circumstances and consulting his bishop.

Where one party to the marriage is a foreigner, the consulate of the country concerned must be consulted. 
Many foreign countries will not recognize the marriage of their citizens unless their own laws are carefully complied with, and these laws are sometimes very peculiar. 
Many an English girl has married a foreigner and found, on reaching her husband's country, that she was not regarded as his legal wife.

Marriages between persons of different races, though often very inexpedient, are not forbidden by the Church. 
Civil laws forbidding it are held by some theologians to infringe the natural rights of man. 
The law of some countries (but not Great Britain) compelling royalty to marry royalty has often had disastrous results, physical and moral.