Christianity and the Tradition of Marriage

by VorJack

MarriageChristianity was born into a greco-roman world, and the first Christians accepted the structure of Roman marriage. Marriage was monogamous and heterosexual, but divorce was possible and the husband might have a concubine before marriage. Marriage and procreation were considered civic requirements, and Augustus found it necessary to legislate marriage for Roman citizens.

By the time of Imperial Rome, marriage was relatively fair to women, who were able to control their property and most aspects of their life. In light of this, it’s probably not surprising that rich wives and widows were able to contribute financially to the early church, and that some women could preach and lead rituals.

After the fall of Rome, the Church spread Roman marriage customs to the Goths, Franks and other European tribes. The tribal practices usually allowed polygamy and treated women as property who could be purchased. By the 6th or 7th century, the Christian Church was able to exert enough cultural pressure to bring the tribes into line.

Competing Traditions

Pullquote: I praise wedlock, I praise marriage, but it is because they give me virgins.
St. Jerome

As Christianity grew in influence it made numerous changes to the institution of marriage. However, Christianity had developed two different traditions on marriage. One regarded marriage as an important institution with theological significance, whereas Roman marriage had been entirely a private and civil affair. Divorce was all but abolished, and the church began to assert influence to prevent marriages that were “illegitimate” (between relatives, etc.) The church began to place “banns” (notices), inviting anyone with reasons why the marriage should not be permitted to step forward. Despite all this, it wasn’t until the 12th century that the wedding became a church ritual.

The other tradition emphasized virginity and sexual abstinence. In conflict with the first tradition, marriage was a second-rate institution for those who could not handle celibacy. The seeds of this tradition can be seen in St. Paul’s 1st Letter to the Corinthians, “To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain single as I do. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.” (1 Cor. 7:8-9, RSV) Celibacy was the ideal, but marriage was a compromise for those who couldn’t live up to it.

Others went farther that Paul. Many of the Church fathers made it clear that marriage was only acceptable because it created a legitimate way of producing offspring. St. Jerome, author of the first Latin bible, summed it up:

“I praise wedlock, I praise marriage, but it is because they give me virgins. I gather the rose from the thorns, the gold from the earth, the pearl from the shell.” (Letter to Eustochium, 20)

The Fall of Woman

Pullquote: The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age: the guilt must of necessity live too. You are the devil’s gateway: you are the unsealer of that (forbidden) tree.
Tertullian

All too often this emphasis on celibacy changed into extreme misogyny. Many church fathers blamed women for the feelings they brought about in men, and so women became the enemy. The ranks of these misogynists include the best and brightest, like Origen, St. Clement of Alexandria, St. Ambrose, St. John Chrysostom, and of course St. Augustine. Tertullian, never subtle, let women have it with both barrels:

“And do you not know that you are (each) an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age: the guilt must of necessity live too. You are the devil’s gateway: you are the unsealer of that (forbidden) tree: you are the first deserter of the divine law: you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God’s image, man. On account of your desert — that is, death — even the Son of God had to die.” (On The Apparel of Women, Book 1, Chpt 1)

These two traditions go back and forth throughout western history. It produced profoundly mixed feelings about marriage, sex and women in general. Sadly, many of the gains of Roman marriage were lost as the misogyny took hold. While women were not to be considered property, they would lose the right to hold property and were barred from inheriting. Their lives came under the control of their fathers and husbands.

The medieval church praised marriage, but placed many restrictions on conjugal sex, as depicted in the famous Medieval Sex Flow-Chart. The celibate life of the monk was exalted, while the life of the married couple was looked at with suspicion. The religious historian Karen Armstrong believes the line of this can be traced through St. Augstine all the way to Mother Ann Lee, founder of the celibate Shakers.

To modern eyes, the influence of Christianity on the institution of marriage has been mixed. The early church adopted and promoted the model of marriage from Imperial Rome, which was certainly preferable to earlier Roman, Greek or Gothic marriage. It slowly and erratically moved marriage from a civil institution to a sacred one. However, at the same time it denigrated women, marriage and sex while elevating celibacy. The misogyny this created lives on.

Sources

Armstrong, Karen. The Gospel According to Women: Christianity’s Creation of the Sex War in the West. 1991.

Coontz, Stephanie. Marriage, A History: How Love Conquered Marriage. 2006.

Vorjack is a librarian/archivist and a public historian, living with his wife in history-soaked Albany, New York.

  • John C

    What did Jesus mean in Mark 10:6 when He said “in the beginning (creation) God made them male and female”? Why would he say this? Everyone knows we are either male or female right? Sounds silly until you understand that prior to the fall, man being made in God’s image who is neither gender but spirit (John 4:4) and having both natures, male and female that man was originally constituted an ethereal dual-unity meaning an Adam-Eve, not two. After sin (spiritual death) the two natures (soul & spirit, male representing spirit head and female the soul) could no longer dwell in unity and the God man lost his ethereal nature so man essentially became flesh (matter) and a divided-two, now Adam & Eve.

    Ever since, the desire for sexual union in the two, to once again “be one” has been the dominant longing, this being a “restoration” and the “mystery of marriage” as scripture put it. Man is not what he once was, which is God-like, what/who Christ is and was in the earth. This is also why in heaven there is no marriage, man is restored to his original matrix, whole again.

    • Francesc

      ya know, Mark 10? It is the same chapter where Jesus said:

      17And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?
      [...]
      21Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.

      So? I could do an offer for your computer, if you want to go to heaven

    • Joe B

      So why the distinctions between Adam and Eve in the story of the fall?

    • wazza

      They stressed the fact that they were created male and female to distinguish themselves from that crazy-talk in that other version of the story about just a male being made at first, then a female being made from one of his ribs. Then the two stories got collated and ruined the effect.

    • Aor

      So, in the beginning god made them male and female… but before the beginning, humans did not have gender.

      Am I reading your stupidity correctly?

      • wazza

        that is indeed his stupidity…

        it’s a novel theology that states that before the fall, humans were incorporeal, and that the fall involved taking on flesh of one gender or the other…

        it makes as much sense as any other religious view, which is to say, it’s complete and utter [censored].

        • Aor

          I’m mostly wondering whether John C as access to some pre-beginning bible, or if he read The Langoliers and had a mysterious revelatory vision after.

    • Olaf

      What did Jezus mean?

      You mean, what did the writer mean when he wrote the fantasy book called the Bible?
      Maybe there is no meaning, maybe the writer used some technobable, something that sounds cool but in realty has no meaning. Just to create some drama in the story.

    • faithnomore

      John C. I think you need some medication for your condition.

    • http://aebrain.blogspot.com Zoe Brain

      ” Everyone knows we are either male or female right? ”

      Nope. Some of us are Intersex. Some Intersex people identify as neither M nor F, and have the biology to back that up.

  • John C

    Joe B…

    How could man be both “made in the image and likeness of God (who Jesus said is Spirit) but also “formed” of the dust of the “earth” if there is not both a pre and post fall creation account in the early chapters of Genesis? The mystery of “earth” is that is means us, man, flesh, etc all that is of this plane we exist on and “heaven” means the spiritual, pristine, undefiled where God who is Spirit “lives”. Now the Lords prayer suddenly takes on a whole new meaning “may it be on earth (our realm) as it is in heaven (His realm).

    Man exiled himself and all of man(kind) into this lowered temporal realm subject to death and decay, pain, suffering, etc as opposed to his initial heavenly (meaning spiritual) condition. This is what Christ restores us back to. It appears one day that all of man(kind) will be restored back to his original likeness and glory, a universal restoration although this is a topic of much debate and controversy. 1 Cor 15:22 says this: As in Adam ALL died (meaning a spiritual death) so in Christ shall ALL be made alive. That’s why I often cite the fairy tales but no one wants to “hear” it, since we are all “grown up”, lol. We are living in the villian stage in between the once upon a time and the happily ever after.

    • wazza

      I can make an image of myself in clay. Presumably God can too. There’s no need to construct it from “spirit” first. Moreover, if God were creating copies of himself in “spirit”, there would be nothing to stop him from giving them solid bodies from the start.

      In any case, the evidence is entirely that we arose through the process of variation and natural selection.

      • trj

        Agreed. The fact that we can show that humans, as well as every other living thing, is the result of evolution is the best counter to JC’s claims, as he’s effectively stating that biological humans popped into existence fully formed.

        You can’t hope to use the Bible itself against someone who’s willing to distort it like JC does. Physical reality is the best argument against such nonsense.

        Except, of course, we all know that JC won’t accept reality either.

        • DarkMatter

          Yea, he argues by the voices inside his head in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    • Jer

      How could man be both “made in the image and likeness of God (who Jesus said is Spirit) but also “formed” of the dust of the “earth” if there is not both a pre and post fall creation account in the early chapters of Genesis?

      Because the early chapters of Genesis are a “just-so” story concocted by nomadic tribes thousands of years ago to explain the creation of the world and their place in it? Their mythology said that humans were special when compared to the other animals. And why were humans special? Because they were created in the image of God, while the animals were just animals.

      A bit of self-serving narcissism on their parts, perhaps, or maybe a failure of imagination. Or perhaps just an excuse to justify to themselves why they were the lords and masters of the land and the animals were there to be used by them. But don’t kid yourself into thinking those nomads had anything nearly as complex as the distortions and contortions of the story that modern Christians manage to put themselves into in order to preserve a “literal” meaning of the text.

    • Joe B

      Is it just me or did that not address my question at all?

    • claidheamh mor

      John C, aren’t you divorced? (My admittedly uninformed opinion would be that she left you.) How well do your beliefs work? By their fruits you shall know them.

    • Olaf

      “How could man be both “made in the image and likeness of God (who Jesus said is Spirit) but also “formed” of the dust of the “earth” if there is not both a pre and post fall creation account in the early chapters of Genesis? ”

      Well, have you read any fictional books lately? Sometimes they do conflict with each other but that does not mean that they are not interesrting to read. Look at all the many inconsistencies in for example Start Trek. Look at the turbo lift, sometimes there is a panel, sometimes there is not, just to make the story works.

      Or it could also be just like the new Star Trek movie. An alternate universe, just to reboot the bible. :-)

    • Aor

      I think the topic of the origin of the initial book of the bible has come up before, yet John C will remain convinced that all the work of historians and archeologists and archivists is meaningless compared to the interpretation he comes up with out of his own ignorance. All the wise and informed and knowledgeable people are wrong so that his arrogant and ignorant self can feel right and true and oh-so-rewarded-by-witnessing.

  • boomslang

    Xian, attempts: “Man exiled himself and all of man(kind) into this lowered temporal realm subject to death and decay, pain, suffering, etc”

    The idea or suggestion that one “man” can, in *one* instance, decide “morally” – or in this case, “immorally” – on the behalf of “all of mankind”, is preposterous, and it is a complete mockery of “free will”. Really now, had “Adam”(& Co) decided to not go against biblegod’s wishes, would “mankind” therefore be “inherently good”? No, of course not, because if we were incapable of making an “ungodly” choice, that would also violate “free will”, not-to-mention, it would eliminate the need to “follow God”—we’d essentially be a bunch of “God”-pleasing robots.

    Per usual, the Christian cannot make logical sense of the Christian philosophy(doctrine). Nothing new, really.

    Continues….”This is what Christ restores us back to.”

    Unproven; unconfirmed. Unprovable; unconfirmable. Amounts to speculation/opinion. There is no objective confirmation for the existence of invisible, conscious beings.

    Continues…..”1 Cor 15:22 says this: As in Adam ALL died (meaning a spiritual death) so in Christ shall ALL be made alive. That’s why I often cite the fairy tales but no one wants to ‘hear’ it, since we are all ‘grown up’, lol.”

    Lewis Carroll says this:

    “Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
    The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
    Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
    The frumious Bandersnatch!!!!”

  • claidheamh mor

    All too often this emphasis on celibacy changed into extreme misogyny.

    Indeed. It shows in other ways: how many anti-abortion-choice people do you know who are actively providing sex education and safe, effective, inexpensive contraception/sterilization to prevent abortions, vs. how many are picketing, harassing, attempting to punish by law, almost always aimed against women? This doesn’t make any sense, when pro-choice people buy the deceptive pretext that it is about “babies”. They miss the ulterior motive of enforcing sexlessness, aimed almost entirely at women. Anti-choice actions of not providing birth control become more understandable when viewed as another expression of misogyny.

    It slowly and erratically moved marriage from a civil institution to a sacred one. However, at the same time it denigrated women, marriage and sex while elevating celibacy. The misogyny this created lives on.

    The legal conflicts around the US regarding same-sex marriage licensing seems to me to be people confusing their religious views – described well in this article – with governmental licenses. If they weren’t, what would be the problem? If gay people get rights to marry, “marriage” is suddenly more open, less proscribed. Christians will say the entire nation is sliding to hell and “out of control”. Indeed. Controlled by whom? People might “get ideas” (of their own!) and be less controllable.

    Good article on the historic or forgotten motives behind this “sacred” “institution”.

    • Siveambrai

      This can be shown further through the virgin or whore dichotomy that can be found both within the Christian bible and among the many scholarly writings that have followed it through the centuries.

      Even today in religious education women have been handicapped and told that they bear the sins of their ancestors. You’re either pure and virginal or the basest of beings doomed to the fire. While men have traditionally been able to repent for the weakness of the flesh, women have been held to an absolute standard.

      • claidheamh mor

        and the man saith, `The woman whom Thou didst place with me — she hath given to me of the tree — and I do eat.’

        Genesis 3:12: The First Copout

      • BlakThundar

        The virgin/whore dichotomy has been talked about in evolutionary psychology… can’t remember the explanation at the moment though.

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  • Alexis

    I often used to wonder what my innocent unborn soul was doing when Eve ate the fruit, and what my brother’s, or neighbor boy’s unborn soul was doing when Eve ate the fruit, that made god condemn me to suffer the “Curse of Eve” while granting them the “Privilege of Adam”. A fair god would only punish the guilty party. I came to the conclusion that either god is not fair, therefore not to be trusted with any promises, or that god does not exist.

    • Olaf

      I agree they all follow an evil god pretending to be nice.

      Look at how abusive men react! First they beat their wives up and emotionally destroy them, and then they change and become some saint helping them to feel better. Then the after they start beating up again.

      Compare this with this god! He beats Adam and Eve up, and then he becomes their savior by sending jezus to save us all!
      And he does this with noah too, force him to be on a boat for 40 days and then suddenly becomes his saviour…

  • dr.R.

    That medieval sex flowchart is hilarious! From now on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday will be known as Sexday!

    Celibacy was the ideal, but marriage was a compromise for those who couldn’t live up to it.

    I never understood how the catholic church could argue that homosexuality is unnatural, while clearly it is celibacy that is unnatural.

    • http://avertyoureye.blogspot.com/ Teleprompter

      They don’t seem to have a quarrel with what is unnatural, but merely with what is inconvenient.

      I’m sure His Holy Father doesn’t want to relinquish air conditioning or modern plumbing.

      • claidheamh mor

        Air conditioning and modern plumbing might make it a bit easier to keep women in their place; changing the definition of marriage might make it harder to enforce controls on them.

        Or at least harder to keep giving preferential insurance policies and tax breaks to proper married people and breeders, penalizing the single and childfree upstarts who will insist on the right to fornicate.

        • http://avertyoureye.blogspot.com/ Teleprompter

          In that sense, religion disgusts me.

          A lot of it is cynical manipulation and control.

          Sex between consenting adults? That’s something to be ashamed of. Sex between a priest and a non-consenting child? No big deal.

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  • Maranatha

    I’m just going to address some of the unbelievable fallacies put forth by some of the atheists in this comments section. The ignorance, narrow mindedness and downright lack of knowledge of the subject matter is quite simply astounding. I have neither the time or inclination to address every single outright fallacy individually, so I’ll just deal with a few.
    a) Nowhere does it say “apple” in Genesis
    b) The “fruit” is of the “tree of knowledge of good and evil”, which is one of two “trees” in the “garden”. It’s metaphorical, dumbasses.
    c) The Bibliography has approximately 67 different authors, of 66 books, written over 2000 years or more for many different reasons and in many different styles. Some are literal (The synoptic gospels, the Book of Kings), some are Wisdom Literature (The Book of Job, Proverbs, Psalms), some are letters (Paul’s epistles), some are a mixture of myth, metaphor and parable (Genesis, Exodus), some are prophecy (Ezekiel, Daniel and The Revelation of St. John). To attempt to “lump them together” puts you all in the same circle as the literalist bible belt fundamentalists. It’s total ignorance. Different scripture, written for different reasons. It’s unbelievable how uninformed, (see unscientific) the posters are here. What a bunch of total tools !!
    d) Cherry picking quotes out of context to support one’s argument is a fallacy, straight out.
    e) “Made in His image” – Made in His LIKENESS, with the ability to create and destroy.
    f) Google ” A challenge to the doctrine of eternal torment”
    g) Educate yourselves. You just look like a gang of uninformed, arrogant, narrow minded, ignorant fools. You know nothing about the subject you discuss !! Hahahahaha !!!
    Oh and God bless. I for one, forgive you for your total ignorance.

    • Sunny Day

      It’s a shame you haven’t read this blog’s About page. Then you might understand what you are actually raving against. Not having done so you just look like a uninformed, arrogant, narrow minded, ignorant fool.

      We forgive your willful ignorance too.

      Hey maybe you could print out for us what parts of the Bible are metaphor and what parts people are supposed to take seriously. Then you can pass them around to all the other christians so they can be “Real Christians” just like you. Be sure to come back here and let us know how it went.

  • Kinsey

    To Alexis…

    All of humanity was punished because eve was created by adam… just because eve was the first tempted by satam and to sin, doesnt mean shes the only guilty one…all humans are sinners. Adam also sinned by taking the fruit from her, against God’s commands… this is why religion, especially christianity is so unaccepted, cause no one knows what they are talking about and make up things they have no clue about.

    I agree with maranatha, just like any book or article, if you paraphrase a part of it, more than likely the rest is going to tell a different story or the actual point they are trying to make… its all dependent on the whole thing, the whole chapter and especially with christianity, the WHOLE book.

    • Sunny Day

      To Kinsey,

      You never addressed Alexis’ question. Why should Alexis be held accountable for the wrongdoing of others? Your comments made no sense. Care to try again?

      After you’ve read the whole book, you are left with even more mythological and contradictory stories. How is this supposed to be better?


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