Wednesday, May 16, 2012


Saint Joseph Church's first wedding at a normal Sunday anticipated Mass on February 14, 2009

My comments first: The Protestant Reformation, for the most part, reduced the number of the Sacraments from seven to two, Baptism and Holy Communion. Martin Luther believed marriage to be a "worldly thing..that belonged to the realm of government." The more government interferes with marriage, the more I feel that the Church should simply say to the government, we'll define what the Sacrament of Marriage is, you define what the legal benefits are. Of course, the Church needs a "state's" recognition of something so essential for not only the state but for the Church, so the Church so simply require that before a Catholic marries in the Church, they present a legal document for the pre-nuptial file stating they have taken care of the "state requirements" for the state's legal recognition of their union so that the Church might then witness Church's Sacrament of Matrimony or "Sacred Union" if a non-baptized person is involved by way of dispensation.

Keep in mind the Church also requires a civil divorce before an annulment procedure in the Church can begin. In terms of ecumenism, the Catholic Church should only recognize those Protestant marriages that take place in a Protestant Church between two baptized Christians as a Sacrament, just so long as that Protestant Communion teaches that marriage is a Sacrament, meaning for a lifetime, between one man and one women and an "image of the relationship of Christ the Bridegroom to His bride the Church". If the Protestant Church does not teach that, the Catholic Church should not recognize those marriages as a Sacrament. This would certainly reduce the number of formal annulment procedures needed for Protestants who are divorced and remarried who seek full communion with the Catholic Church and those divorced Protestants who desire to marry a Catholic in the Church. One would only need to prove that the Christian Communion does not teach that in their denomination marriage is for one man and one woman and for a lifetime. The Catholic Church's "annulment procedure" could then be simplified to what we require of Catholics who marry outside the Church, similar to the "Lack of Form" cases that are so simple to resolve.

How Protestantism Redefined Marriage

Bethany Blankley
Religion and Politics Analyst (Huffington Post, May 16th)

It's important to trace the history of marriage within the Western Christian tradition to understand the ironic conundrum with which Americans find themselves today.

Early Christians in the first through third century understood marriage to be a union between one man and one woman created by God as a consummated partnership described in Genesis 2. Early Christian leaders, such as the Apostle Paul, explained that marriage was more than just a union between two people. It was an act of worship that pointed to Christ's sacrificial relationship with the church (Ephesians 5). Therefore, marriage was not about a contract or a financial engagement as had been the custom for centuries prior, but a sacred union that should reflect God's love. Christ turned the accepted cultural norms about marriage on its head.

Later, in the fourth century, Constantine, the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity, instituted Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire. This act formalized Christian customs and grew the responsibility of the Roman church, which over time became formally responsible for performing weddings.

It wasn't until the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century that the recording of marriages and establishing of rules for marriage became a function of the state. Martin Luther, the Catholic priest who initiated the Reformation in Germany said that marriage was a "worldly thing ... that belongs to the realm of government." A similar opinion was expressed by John Calvin, his Swiss counterpart. Calvin and his colleagues reformulated Christian marriage by enacting the Marriage Ordinance of Geneva, which imposed "The dual requirements of state registration and church consecration to constitute marriage" as valid.

By the 17th century, many of the Protestant European countries' governments were responsible for instituting marriage.

English Puritans who rejected the Church of England's view of marriage and immigrated to America in the early 1600s, believed that marriage was a civil contract, not a religious ceremony. The law they instituted required that marriage be "agreed" or "executed" (not "performed" or "solemnized") before a magistrate, not a minister. They also legalized divorce if the terms of the marriage covenant were broken. These customs became the model for marriage throughout New England. Other parts of colonial America followed different traditions -- Virginians followed the Anglican view of marriage, Quakers brought their own version to Delaware, and Catholics instituted their belief in Maryland and other states.

Unlike its European counterparts, which instituted civil marriage in the 18th and 19th centuries, the United States left the issue of marriage to the states. Marriage was not codified until 1996 through the Defense of Marriage Act. In fact, marriage today resembles a mélange of western Christian marriage traditions within a federalist system.

Since 2004, six states have granted marriage licenses to same-sex couples (Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire New York, Vermont and Washington, D.C.). Washington and Maryland recently passed laws to grant same-sex marriage licenses, which voters may overturn in November. In California, same-sex marriage could be legally performed between June 16 and Nov. 4, 2008, until voters passed Proposition 8, which prohibited it. As of May 8, North Carolina voters passed a gay marriage ban. To date, 12 states prohibit same-sex marriage by statute and 30 by state constitution. On May 9, President Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to express his support for the legalization of same-sex marriage.

How did we get in this quagmire?

Were it not for the Protestant Reformation, marriage would not be considered a civil institution today. Had Christians followed the early church's example, marriage would never have been thrust into the realm of the government at all.

In light of this, Christians find themselves in an ironic and divided situation. As citizens of a secular country they must be licensed by the state to validate a practice that is rooted in a religious belief. Should this be the case? Should a practice rooted in a Judeo-Christian faith even be under the auspices of government? If marriage had been left to the church, the church could marry those who practice and follow its beliefs. Civil unions among same-sex couples could be left to the government, providing the full range of civil liberties citizens in a democracy expect. The fact that marriage is governed by the state, defies its purpose intended by God for heterosexuals and prevents civil liberties from being granted to same-sex couples.

Granted, 17th century Puritans viewed the government as agents of God's authority, but they never could have foreseen how non-Christians would want to use a Christian practice as a political right.

The sanctity of marriage, as defined in Genesis 2, would be best preserved if marriage were left to the authority of the church. Instead, most Bible-believing Christians find themselves defending a religious practice that was never designed to be governed by a secular institution.


Joseph Johnson said...

I first thought of this concept when I saw the old film of the marriage of Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier of Monaco. The film showed them first going through a civil ceremony and then a nuptial Mass. As you have suggested, Father, maybe this is what we need to start doing here in the U.S. (at least as far as we Catholics are concerned).

ytc said...

So the Prots destroyed marriage. Way to go.

qwikness said...

That was a good article. I can't believe it was in the Huffington Post.

Pater Ignotus said...

How does your proposal regarding the recognition of "these" marriages and not "those" marriages comport with the Catholic teaching on the nature of marriage?

Gene W. (formerly Pin) said...

The Protestant Reformation was actually more of a political phenomenon than it was a theological one. Theologically, the differences between Luther and Calvin and the Church are/were not insurmountable. It was the attack upon the Papacy and the Magisterium that the secular European powers seized upon and used as a means to weaken Papal and Church political influence. Using this leverage, the Church was stripped of her possessions, land, buildings, resources, and marginalized in many countries. Whatever the intentions of Luther and Calvin, the result was a play right into the hands of rationalistic philosophy, the Nation-State, and the coming "Enlightenment." The Reformation, like the French Revolution later, was not the wonderful juggernaut of a new "freedom of ideas" that jaded historians still proclaim.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

PI you need to clarify your question--are you speaking of the state's understanding of marriage or Protestant understandings of marriage or simply the Catholic Church's teaching on marriage which the Church can regulate through canon law. For example, we do recognize the first marriage of two baptized people who are not Catholic as a Sacramental marriage, unless we prove otherwise through our annulment procedure. They are not required to be married in the Catholic Church or any church, a civil marriage is all that is needed even a "common law" civil recognition of their union. But that is not the case for Catholics--Church law states they must be married in the Church unless they receive a dispensation for it to occur in another way. And even if the Catholic marries in the Catholic Church, the pastor of that Church must delegate another priest who presides to witness the marriage. If the pastor fails to do that, the marriage is not considered a sacrament (all due to canon law, not divine law).

rcg said...

I am of two minds about this. First, it seems reasonable and I lean heavily that direction myself: the Government should be involved in establishing legal relationships only. This allows for same sex relationships that are based on mutual aid without regard to personal behaviour. On the other hand, the Church must be careful not to withdraw from the public square or to set up a parallel 'legal' system, ala sharia law. I don't think this happening as a plan as much as a result of the Socialist Balkanization of our society. It reminds me when someone initiates a statement with the phrase "Your God...". It both separates and invalidates our position. Our charter is to bring forth the Church in this world. This could shirk that responsibility, if we are not careful.

So while I agree the Church should not sign the licenses, we should be willing to perform marriages with out legal support. Would you be willing to do that, FrAJM?

ytc said...

What do you mean, Pater?

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

I beleive the reason the Church require civil recognition of our marriages in the Church is that marriage is first and formeost a natural right between a man and a women, regardless of religion unless there are legal or moral impediments, (such as natural or legal relationships, (a mother-in-law marrying her former son-in-law or a brother marrying a sister or first cousins marrying each other, although in the later case, the Church can give a dispensation in other countries where civil law does not forbid it). So for the Church to perform marriages without civil law acknowledgment of the legal union would be disastrous I believe.

Anonymous 5 said...

PI, I think the concept of "these" and "those" marriages is not a stumbling block except perhaps re semantic confusion, of which there is much. There is already at least one major situation in which the Church clearly holds people to be married while the state clearly says they aren't: when a couple has received a divorce decree and there has been no annulment. The only complication, as I've said, is that the same word is used for the legal status and the sacrament, which leads to confusion in people's minds. Normally, in my experience, we as Catholics let ourselves be brainwashed by the secular terminology, e.g., "Divorced people are free to receive Communion if they haven't remarried." The point of this is that they _aren't_ divorced in the eyes of the Church since canonically/theologically there's no such thing, but we talk as if there is since the state says there is.

In light of this, the question becomes which definition of marriage most closely comports with Catholic teaching, as you note, and also with natural law. The answer, I think, is obvious. A union that is by its very nature infertile, and arguably intentionally so, runs afoul of both. (Question: Can a male/female couple who are known to be infertile marry? If so, what's the reasoning behind it? Can this reasoning be extended to homosexual couples? This may shed some light on the issue. My guess is that the infertility in this case doesn't go to the nature of the beings getting married, i.e. male and female he created them.)

My initial reaction is that Fr. McD's proposal for separating sacrament from civil aspects may be the way to go in future, since among other things that will give the Church strong First Amendment protection when it comes to resisting state coercion to conform to distorted civil notions of marriage. But I'm open to discussion.

Pater Ignotus said...

Anon 5 - A person who has obtained a civil divorce is considered by the Church to be divorced. The marriage is considered valid until such time as a Decree of Nullity is obtained.

Yes, a couple known to be infertile can marry in the Catholic Church with the explicit permission of the bishop. They are able to attain one of the "goods" of marriage.

Canon 1005 names the TWO "goods" of marriage: 1) the BONUM CONIUGUM (the good of the spouses), and 2) the BONUM PROLIS (the good of having children).

No, this reasoning cannot be extended to gay or lesbian couples.

I do not agree with Good Fr. McDonald when he suggests that we should not sign civil licenses. BOTH the State and the Church have an interest in marriage, both should be involved in the matter as our interests overlap.

Circling the wagons is a romantic notion, but I wonder if those so encircled did not end up, in the majority of cases, being exterminated. I do not agree that this is a time for self-exile from the larger society, but a time for greater evangelization by Christians of a post-Christian society.

Carol H. said...

Anon 5,
When I came into the Church in the 90's, I was taught that a person who knows that he/she is infertile cannot be married in the Church. (Though I believe it was said that exceptions can be made if the couple were able to prove their plans to adopt children and raise them as their own).

Anonymous 5 said...


Re your statement "A person who has obtained a civil divorce is considered by the Church to be divorced--" My guess (strictly a guess since I'm not a canon lawyer and I'm too lazy right now to cross the room to get my copy of the Code) is that this statement is simply a truism, but one that is necessarily in reference to the couple's civil legal status. I guess what I'm asking is this: there are two states: married and not married (as in the case of a decree of nullity, or death of a spouse, or never having gone through a wedding ceremony). The church does recognize a _legal_ state of divorce, but isn't that only a statement of civil--or perhaps also canon--law? Sacramentally there is no third state, is there? The problem with a civilly divorced person (re)marrying is that without a decree of nullity, s/he is still sacramentally married and therefore not free to marry, right?

As for the overlapping of interests--the problem that I foresee, and that I believe Fr. McD foresees, is that the interests will not merely overlap but conflict at a fundamental level. To some degree they already do, I think; I would argue that the high civil divorce rate and high rate of contraceptive use are both prima facie evidence that the public at large has a different concept of marriage than the Catholic understanding of it. A logical extension of this is that the state not merely permits but allows a legal contract/status called marriage that the Church cannot accept because it is deficient as to the res of a sacrament. (In fact you already have this conflict when a civilly divorced person is free to marry under the civil law but is not likewise free according to the Church because he hasn't gotten a decree of nullity. What if the state tells the Church that it _must_ conduct a sacrament of matrimony on request/demand by any parties that the state declares have the civil capacity to marry? The options as I see it are 1) civil disobedience and 2) get out of abetting the civil marriage business altogether.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

I think it very important for the state to recognize marriage as a legal reality and I so no problem in allowing the state to do its thing and the Church mandating that "state thing" prior to the Solemnization of marriage in the Church. For the Church to celebrate the sacrament of marriage without the state's recognition of the legality of it in civil law would be a disaster. The same is true with annulments. Even though a civil divorce is acquired and mandated by the Church before the annulment procedure can begin, the person in the eyes of canon law is still bound "spiritually and morally" to the person from who they are separated. The civil divorce simply takes care of the legal issues of persons and property in this separation. For the Catholic to marry again, civilly would not be viewed as a sacramental marriage, although a legal union has occurred. If they are having sexual intercourse, they would be considered committing adultery against the spouse to whom the person is sacramentally united. They could, though, live in a legal marriage without the benefit of intercourse and still be Catholics in good standing.

Bottom line, it is important for the state to recognize the legality of the civil union and the Church should respect that as it concerns or the civil aspects of marriage.

Pater Ignotus said...

Anon 5 - Divorce is a function of civil law, not canon law or theology.

Yes, as far as the Church is concerned, a person is either married or not married. But the Church is not the only "interested party" as regards marriage/divorce.

The overlap has, I suspect, always been problematic. Some cultures allowed polygamy, some allowed the marriage of brothers and sisters, etc. We do not end the friction by saying "You (state) do your thing and we (Chrurch) will do ours." That is not a solution, but a sweeping of the problems under the rug.

Carol - There is no requirement that an infertile couple plan to adopt a child in order to be married in the Catholic Church. This sounds to me like a priest's personal (but incorrect) expectation, or a misunderstanding on the part of the couple getting married of what a priest may have suggested.

Anonymous said...

“n terms of ecumenism, the Catholic Church should only recognize those Protestant marriages that take place in a Protestant Church between two baptized Christians as a Sacrament, just so long as that Protestant Communion teaches that marriage is a Sacrament . . . One would only need to prove that the Christian Communion does not teach that in their denomination marriage is for one man and one woman and for a lifetime. The Catholic Church's "annulment procedure" could then be simplified to what we require of Catholics who marry outside the Church, similar to the "Lack of Form" cases that are so simple to resolve.”

No, no, no. A natural, non-sacramental marriage is indissoluble - just as indissoluble as a sacramental marriage.

A Catholic who marries outside the church (and without a dispensation) can get an annulment because, as a Catholic, he is subject to a requirement to be married in the canonical form (or get a dispensation) and this is a requirement for validity.

But a non-Catholic is - and can be - under no such requirement. Consequently their marriages, though not celebrated in Catholic canonical form, are entirely valid. They may not be sacramental marriages (or they may be) but at the very least they are valid natural marriages, and so indissoluble. Hence you can’t short-circuit the need for an annulment unless you are going to change fundamentally Catholic teaching about marriage, which is that it is inherently indissoluble because it is marriage, and not just because it is a sacrament.


Militia Immaculata said...

Infertility isn't an impediment to a valid marriage in the Church. But impotence (chronic, permanent impotence, not a temporary thing) is.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

To be honest with you I don't know that I've heard of marriage an indissoluble as you describe it in terms of those who are not Catholic. Of course the presumption of the Church currently is that marriages between two baptized non-Catholics is a sacrament. But annulments are granted in part if the parties did not understand the "Catholic meaning" of marriage at the time of their nuptials, i.e. that it is for a lifetime, or indissoluble, an image of Christ and His Church, etc--if one is not Catholic and belongs to a Church that doesn't teach the Catholic meaning of marriage, that would seem to strengthen that argument. At the same time, if the Catholic Church can legislate for her own members, why not for other Christians? We legislated prior to Vatican II that converts to the faith, even though baptized in a Protestant Church had to be re-baptized, why not the same for marriage? I know that would be un-ecumenical to say the least, but technically couldn't we?

ytc said...

Father, I'm not sure you're right about the pre-Vatican II convert baptism thing.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Well, at least prior to Vatican II it was the custom to re-baptize Protestants when they were received into the Church, at least conditionally.

ytc said...

Oh, psh, conditional baptism! I am ALL for that for all converts!

Pater Ignotus said...

The Church considers ALL marriages to be valid and indissoluble until shown to be otherwise.

Two Buddhists who marry in a Buddhist ceremony are, in the eyes of the Church, married - as married as two Catholics who marry in the presence of a priest.

The Church does not - and can not - expect that they will have a "Catholic" understanding of marriage. The Catholic Church cannot legislate for non-Catholics any more than Japan can legislate for Ugandans.

The Church "re-baptized" non-Catholis NOT because we had imposed a regulation on THEM, but because we had an internal (and erroneous) understanding of who can/cannot celebrate a valid Christian baptism.

Our decision to baptize a person who as baptized (invalidly) as a Mormon is an internal matter.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

I guess it is the word "indissolubility" that I'm not getting. I agree that all marriages of non-Christian religions that do not go against natural law are marriages in the strict legal and natural right realm. It is the indissolubility of "non-Sacramental" marriages that I'm questioning. The reason that the Church can grant baptized people, either Catholic or Protestant an annulment is not based upon any legal notion of marriage for the church acknowledges the religious and civil dimension of their marriage even is it is proven not to be sacramental. But if an annulment is granted, the Church says, no sacramental marriage took place--that there was only a legal bond and therefore no indissoluble marriage.And in fact I believe in canon law and I'm not sure if it is the Petrine or Pauline privilege, but the church can "dissolve" a marriage between to non-Christians in favor of the Christian faith if that non-Christian person becomes a Christian and desires to marry a Christian--it is not an annulment but a dissolving of the "moral bond" of marriage. And another case wehre the Church actually allows "a holy bond" that is not considered a sacrament are those marriages in the Church between a baptized Catholic and a non-baptized person. I believe if these marriages end in a civil divorce, the annulment procedure is different for them and is not truly an annulment, since in fact the Church acknowledges from the outset and even within the liturgical ceremony that this is not a sacrament but just a holy bond.

Nicholas said...

While I agree with you about most of what you have written here, I disagree on one fundamental point. The states recognition is immaterial and less than useless it is detrimental. The Church should reject it at its core. For starters it gives the State an ability to place impediments to marriage, which they have no right to impose, and it surrenders authority to the State which rightly belongs to the Church. There should be no relation of the two events, and the Church should never submit to a permission slip from the state to perform a sacrament, not even a marriage license.