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What is Marriage? #319710 04/23/09 01:17 AM
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NeoChalcedonian Offline OP
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Is there a single theologically valid definition of marriage such that both Christians and non-Christians are married and the point at which one's marital status changes from single to married can be clearly defined? If so, what? If not, why not?

Marriage as described in the OT/NT/Early Church involves a formally binding life-long contractual relationship between a man and woman that *presupposes* ownership of the woman by her father and therefore necessarily includes the transfer of those property rights to the husband.

For Hebrews, marriage was simply the purchase or capture of a bride, whether, like Jacob, the price was labor, or whether the father of the groom arranged a marriage for his son.

The Church for the first few centuries simply recognized Roman common law marriages amongst Christians without its own formal ceremony; the explicit Eucharist-marriage connection did not come about until the fifth century. Thus, when St. Paul, St. Peter and the earliest Fathers wrote about Christian marriage, it is obvious that they were speaking of an institution created and defined by Roman law and not the Church itself. After the Roman Empire become Christian, state marriage was "Christianized" and became something God through the Church bestows upon a man and a woman.

Last edited by NeoChalcedonian; 04/23/09 01:18 AM.
Re: What is Marriage? [Re: NeoChalcedonian] #319768 04/23/09 03:29 PM
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Christ is Risen!! Indeed He is Risen!!

I think that to hold the position you have outlined, you have to stand outside the Church's understanding of what it is to be "in Christ."

St. Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians, though much misunderstood, speaks of the way in which husbands and wives are to live together. Once Christ came and turned the world upside down, all of that "ownership" stuff was to go out the window. Now it may have continued for centuries, but I maintain that is because of incomplete evangelization of persons, not a defect in the message of Christ or how things are/were supposed to be.

Ephesians 5:21 says "Be subject ot one another out of reverence for Christ." V32 says "This is a great mystery." Marriage for the Christian is meant to be a covenant--a mutual relationship such as God has offered us in Jesus Christ by Baptism. It's humbling to me that the whole idea of one's Creator offering an equality relationship like covenant to a creature. That relationship moves into the marriage relationship simply because of the command of Christ that the Second Commandment is that we love our neighbor as ourselves to show that we are all sons of the Father. A wife is not property, even if she is in an arranged marriage. Christ changed all that when He came and described how things were meant to be in the beginning. The idea that a woman is property is the result of sin, in my humble opinion.

It may be said that the Church wrestled with Roman law and the culture within which she first lived, but I still maintain that despite the reality or lack of a formal sacramental ceremony Christian marriage was not meant to be anything like the unions of those who were not Christians in that or any other era. On the other hand, the Eastern Christian approach to the idea of "sacrament" is probably a better one in that everything we do once we are "in Christ" has a sacramental value. That may be why some Byzantine authors refer to more than the seven sacraments defined in the West. Once we're "in Christ" nothing is the same; everything that we do or are involved in is sacred/sacramental.

I've seen your statement used as an argument to justify homosexual "marriage": that the Church made up the position on marriage as time went along and so ought to simply move along with the latest ideas of the society and culture in which she now finds herself. I don't buy it.

In Christ,

BOB

Re: What is Marriage? [Re: theophan] #319770 04/23/09 04:05 PM
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Theophan,

Christ is Risen!

Many thanks for the interaction; please feel free to attack my positions mercilessly. For the record, most of my historical data comes from this book along with online conversations with Archbishop Lazar. According to both, marriage in the New Testament and for the early Fathers was understood as created and defined by the *state.* In Jewish law and custom, the fathers owned their daughters and husbands owned their wives after marriage, and this fundamental legal reality did not change in the Apostolic age and even long after the Roman Empire was Christianized.

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I've seen your statement used as an argument to justify homosexual "marriage": that the Church made up the position on marriage as time went along and so ought to simply move along with the latest ideas of the society and culture in which she now finds herself. I don't buy it.


The conclusion may not follow, but the premise is demonstrable fact. Christians are supposed to submit to the government as they are supposed to be faithful to their spouses, but just as it is never defined how new governments are created or on what basis they claim legitimacy; it is not defined how single persons become married persons and on what authority.

Last edited by NeoChalcedonian; 04/23/09 04:22 PM.
Re: What is Marriage? [Re: theophan] #319775 04/23/09 04:32 PM
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A wife is not property, even if she is in an arranged marriage. Christ changed all that when He came and described how things were meant to be in the beginning. The idea that a woman is property is the result of sin, in my humble opinion.


I think this was the view of St. Paul and of the Church because the husband-wife are and were always meant to be understood as one flesh whether married inside the Church or outside of it, but the state the Church exists in may or may not have laws that perfectly agree with this reality. Nevertheless, St. Paul and all the Fathers *do* write under the assumption that marriages are arranged and that daughters are under the rule/ownership of their fathers. An unmarried woman in this context is either (a) the property of her father or (b) betrothed to a man such that all sex is adultery. The question remains:

Is there a single theologically valid definition of marriage such that both Christians and non-Christians are married and the point at which one's marital status changes from single to married can be clearly defined? If so, what? If not, why not?

Last edited by NeoChalcedonian; 04/23/09 04:37 PM.
Re: What is Marriage? [Re: NeoChalcedonian] #319787 04/23/09 06:07 PM
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I think we have to turn to a natural law understanding of marriage to find a "single theologically valid definition of marriage such that both Christians and non-Christians are married and the point at which one's marital status changes from single to married can be clearly defined." The llegal marriage may correspond more or less to marriage as God created it. Christian marriage is something far more than natural marriage but encompasses it.

Re: What is Marriage? [Re: NeoChalcedonian] #319788 04/23/09 06:14 PM
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Originally Posted by NeoChalcedonian
For the record, most of my historical data comes from this book along with online conversations with Archbishop Lazar. According to both, marriage in the New Testament and for the early Fathers was understood as created and defined by the *state.*
NeoC,

For my part, I have to say I am quite surprised that an Orthodox bishop would make such a statement, which certainly sounds like a very *heterodox* interpretation of history.

The point is that it is necessary to distinguish between the "nuts and bolts" of how one goes about getting married, and the essence of marriage. With regard to the former, Our Lord has nothing to say, but with regard to the latter, He is quite explicit:
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Some Pharisees approached him, and tested him, saying, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatever?"
He said in reply, "Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female' and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate." (Mt.19:3-6)

Thus, while He does not answer the question of "how single persons become married persons," He certainly answers the question of "on what authority."


Originally Posted by NeoChalcedonian
... when St. Paul, St. Peter and the earliest Fathers wrote about Christian marriage, it is obvious that they were speaking of an institution created and defined by Roman law and not the Church itself.

The problem that I see here is one of looking back at something like the Early Church's view of marriage, and expecting it to be either exactly as it is today or else something completely foreign to it. Such an approach is what we call "intellectually dishonest," since it selectively ignores available evidence in order to get the desired conclusion.

The clear fact is that Jesus declared marriage to be an institution of divine origin, going back to the very beginning of the human race. The fact that He does not attempt to define what is necessary for a couple to be joined together by God only means that the existing laws and conventions governing marriage were completely adequate, so long as the principles He set forth were kept in mind.


Peace,
Deacon Richard

Re: What is Marriage? [Re: Epiphanius] #319790 04/23/09 06:25 PM
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Deacon Richard,

Christ is Risen! Thanks for your input!

Originally Posted by Epiphanius
For my part, I have to say I am quite surprised that an Orthodox bishop would make such a statement, which certainly sounds like a very *heterodox* interpretation of history.


Please see for yourself. It's also in the Marriage According to St. Athanasius and confirmed in other scholarly literature.
Originally Posted by Epiphanius

The problem that I see here is one of looking back at something like the Early Church's view of marriage, and expecting it to be either exactly as it is today or else something completely foreign to it. Such an approach is what we call "intellectually dishonest," since it selectively ignores available evidence in order to get the desired conclusion.


First, it's not a matter of "preciseness," and secondly I haven't put forward any position. I asked a question accompanied with fairly noncontroversial historical data. The Apostles, the Church before Constantine and even years later did not have a formal marriage ceremony and simply followed Roman law on this matter. Within the Jewish tradition, marriages didn't require the presence of priests or state sanction. Within the Western Church, priests weren't involved in the marriage ceremony until after the tenth century.

Jews have recognized non-Jews and Christians have recognized non-Christians as married to each other on the basis of natural law and established customs. So I think the only "intellectually honest" path is one laid out by CRW above:


Originally Posted by CRW
I think we have to turn to a natural law understanding of marriage to find a "single theologically valid definition of marriage such that both Christians and non-Christians are married and the point at which one's marital status changes from single to married can be clearly defined." The llegal marriage may correspond more or less to marriage as God created it. Christian marriage is something far more than natural marriage but encompasses it.


Last edited by NeoChalcedonian; 04/23/09 06:45 PM.
Re: What is Marriage? [Re: NeoChalcedonian] #319793 04/23/09 06:32 PM
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Before going any further, perhaps it would be good if somebody read Fr. John Meyendorff's "Marriage: An Orthodox Perspective", and perhaps Archbishop Joseph (Raya)'s "Crowning: The Christian Marriage", both of which will provide not only the basis for an answer but also correct a number of misconceptions that seem to underly the discussion on both sides here.

Re: What is Marriage? [Re: NeoChalcedonian] #319800 04/23/09 07:42 PM
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Originally Posted by NeoChalcedonian
... when St. Paul, St. Peter and the earliest Fathers wrote about Christian marriage, it is obvious that they were speaking of an institution created and defined by Roman law and not the Church itself.
NeoC,

This statement, particularly the bolded part, is what I was referring to primarily. Properly understanding the words "created" and "defined," this is certainly an interpretation and a position, historically speaking. If marriage is understood as "created and defined" by the state, then it follows that the state has the right to define marriage however it sees fit (since it is defined by the state), or even abolish it altogether (since it was created by the state).

If you wish to understand the words "created" and "defined" differently, that's your prerogative, but in that case don't go looking for a "theologically valid definition" of anything, as this would be impossible under such parameters ...


Originally Posted by NeoChalcedonian
The Apostles, the Church before Constantine and even years later did not have a formal marriage ceremony and simply followed Roman law on this matter. Within the Jewish tradition, marriages didn't require the presence of priests or state sanction. Within the Western Church, priests weren't involved in the marriage ceremony until after the tenth century.

Jews have recognized non-Jews and Christians have recognized non-Christians as married to each other on the basis of natural law and established customs.

I have no problem with any of these statements, except to say that they do not support the "created and defined" statement you made earlier.


Peace,
Deacon Richard



Last edited by Epiphanius; 04/23/09 07:51 PM.
Re: What is Marriage? [Re: Epiphanius] #319804 04/23/09 07:59 PM
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Originally Posted by Epiphanius
If marriage is understood as "created and defined" by the state, then it follows that the state has the right to define marriage however it sees fit (since it is defined by the state), or even abolish it altogether (since it was created by the state).


What's needed for marriage? Can nontheists and non-Christians get married by getting a piece of paper? Why or why not? You admitted that our Lord said nothing about "the "nuts and bolts" of how one goes about getting married; I agree, so who says so and on what basis? Somebody has to make it up. If you look at Jewish customs, the Roman law early Christians followed and legal developments in the Christian East and West, in addition to all the legitimate unions recognized by Jews and Christians historically, then you will find precious little common to them all. The following describes the essence of Jewish marital law now and at the time of Christ:
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The Torah provides very little guidance with regard to the procedures of a marriage. The method of finding a spouse, the form of the wedding ceremony, and the nature of the marital relationship are all explained in the Talmud.

Mishnah Kiddushin 1:1 specifies that a woman is acquired (i.e., to be a wife) in three ways: through money, a contract, and sexual intercourse. Ordinarily, all three of these conditions are satisfied, although only one is necessary to effect a binding marriage.

Because marriage under Jewish law is essentially a private contractual agreement between a man and a woman, it does not require the presence of a rabbi or any other religious official. It is common, however, for rabbis to officiate, partly in imitation of the Christian practice and partly because the presence of a religious or civil official is required under American civil law.

Last edited by NeoChalcedonian; 04/23/09 08:00 PM.
Re: What is Marriage? [Re: NeoChalcedonian] #319807 04/23/09 08:43 PM
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Is there a single theologically valid definition of marriage such that both Christians and non-Christians are married and the point at which one's marital status changes from single to married can be clearly defined?


NO.

How can we talk about theology applying to non-Christians? Christian theology applies to Christians and non-Christians are a whole other category. When a non-Christian becomes a Christian, that's the only time one has to look at the marital status in terms of Christ.

Outside of that, what determines a marriage is simply a matter of law and culture.

My opinion--and it is that--is that with Christian marriage, as with all things related to a person once he has become part of the Body of Christ, is that all things are radically changed because of the spiritual dimension added by Baptism and incorporation into Christ. We have one foot in eternity and one foot here. How that relates to the non-Christian who does not have that dimension is something we can't know about.

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Nevertheless, St. Paul and all the Fathers *do* write under the assumption that marriages are arranged and that daughters are under the rule/ownership of their fathers.


I don't know that. I'd have to see it spelled out in the Fathers to believe that. But, the, I trust little of "modern" Biblical or Patristic scholarship done by Western scholars. Given so much of what I have seen, read, and heard since the mid-1960s, I treat most of it as worthless.

BOB

Re: What is Marriage? [Re: NeoChalcedonian] #319808 04/23/09 08:46 PM
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an institution created and defined by Roman law and not the Church itself


What of the Church of the East which grew and developed outside the parameters of the Roman Empire--in the Persian Empire?

BOB

Re: What is Marriage? [Re: StuartK] #319817 04/23/09 09:17 PM
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StuartK,

I have already read a substantial amount (though not all) of the first book by Meyendorff, perhaps you could summarize the point I'm missing. I accept that Orthodox marriage is a heavenly reality that exists for no earthly end, but what implications does this have for Christian moral reasoning on sex and the established validity of unions outside the Church? Unless Christian norms on sex and marriage have absolutely no bearing to the non-Christian world whatsoever, then these would seem to be important questions.

Last edited by NeoChalcedonian; 04/23/09 09:18 PM.
Re: What is Marriage? [Re: theophan] #319824 04/23/09 10:17 PM
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Originally Posted by theophan
How can we talk about theology applying to non-Christians?


The Church has no ethical, spiritual or theological truth on human-human relations, esp. sex and marriage, to share with non-Christians? If it does, then that involves applying theology to non-Christians.

Originally Posted by theophan
I don't know that. I'd have to see it spelled out in the Fathers to believe that. But, the, I trust little of "modern" Biblical or Patristic scholarship done by Western scholars. Given so much of what I have seen, read, and heard since the mid-1960s, I treat most of it as worthless.


That the woman belongs either to her father or to her husband was common understanding in both Jewish and Roman law, as this was how *all* marriages worked we'd need great textual evidence to ascribe any other view to them. We know that the Apostles told Christian slaves to obey their masters and for Christian masters to treat their slaves properly and that the Mosaic laws governing slavery are incredibly harsh, so there was obviously nothing intrinsically evil seen in the idea of one human being owning another but only in the treatment of persons within such relationships.

For St. John Chrysostom, the great mystery of marriage described by St. Paul consisted in a man and a woman who barely knew each other being able to come together and love one another:

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For indeed, in very deed, a mystery it is, yea, a great mystery, that a man should leave him that gave him being, him that begat him, and that brought him up, and her that travailed with him and had sorrow, those that have bestowed upon him so many and great benefits, those with whom he has been in familiar intercourse, and be joined to one who was never even seen by him and who has nothing in common with him, and should honor her before all others. A mystery it is indeed. And yet are parents not distressed when these events take place, but rather, when they do not take place; and are delighted when their wealth is spent and lavished upon it.— A great mystery indeed! and one that contains some hidden wisdom. (Homily 20 on Ephesians)


The marriage described by St. Paul as a symbol of the Incarnation *is* an arranged marriage:

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I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. (2 Cor. 11:2)


I am interested in these questions, but the question I left at the top of the thread is presently most important to me.

Last edited by NeoChalcedonian; 04/23/09 10:31 PM.
Re: What is Marriage? [Re: NeoChalcedonian] #319825 04/23/09 10:44 PM
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Originally Posted By: theophan
How can we talk about theology applying to non-Christians?
The Church has no ethical, spiritual or theological truth on human-human relations, esp. sex and marriage, to share with non-Christians? If it does, then that involves applying theology to non-Christians.


I think we're talking past each other. I did not mean or imply your statement about our sharing a vision with non-Christians. Your original question concerning finding a common basis for defining marriage with non-Christians struck me as in the same category as defining water as dry. Christian marriage is worlds apart from that of non-Christians, especially in view of the culture's attitude today. I've heard about the new vows people want to use that replace "as long as you both shall live" with "as long as we both shall love" which can mean until the next person who arouses our attention comes along.

At this stage of the game, I'd say that a common definition that does not water down the Faith we have received together with the sacredness of marriage that the Church has come to understand is impossible.

BOB

Last edited by theophan; 04/23/09 10:45 PM.
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