Friday, June 13, 2014


My comments first: While the article below accurately describes post-Reformation doctrines concerning the Sacraments of the Church and that marriage in most Protestant denominations is not considered a sacrament, the article fails to point out that the nature of marriage, sacramental or not is between a man and a women and this is true even in polygamist cultures although normally the man can have multiple wives but the wife cannot have multiple husbands. Despite polygamy, the natural order of sex is maintained.

The Catholic Church and orthodox Protestants are active in the political public square in this country (USA) as we ought to be as Americans. It is not the sacramental nature of marriage that is the primary concern, although certainly for Catholics within the Church, but the nature of marriage and human sexuality based upon natural law which even polygamists uphold.

The Church teaches that natural law is available to everyone even pagans and other non-believers. It is easy to see within natural law (and we aren't speaking about the animal kingdom or plants or other life) but about human beings and what is natural in terms of biology and the design of the two sexes for pro-creative reasons.

One of the reasons that some Catholic Church leaders are open to "civil unions" is not that "civil unions" that are sexual are to be condoned, but the name used for them is appropriate. It is not a marriage, it is a civil union. To use the term marriage for two or more people of the same sex is a misnomer in natural law. So the Church in a compromise and to avoid equating marriage with anything other than the heterosexual type is willing to use the term "civil union" to avoid the term marriage, sacramental or not!

  • Marriage is Not a Sacrament for Protestants and Why that Matters to LGBT Christians
  • By Elizabeth Drescher
  • Henry VIII was a careful student of Reformation theology.

  • Elizabeth Drescher

    Elizabeth Drescher is the author of the forthcoming book Choosing Our Religion: The Spiritual Lives of America’s None (Oxford University Press). She teaches religion at Santa Clara University.
  • Recently, well meaning Episcopal clergy and lay leaders have been urging the church to “extend the sacrament of marriage” to lesbian and gay Episcopalians, moving beyond the blessing of same-sex unions that was approved at the last General Assembly of the church in 2012.
    Leaders from Baptist, United Church of Christ, and other denominations have likewise pressed for marriage equality in Christian churches, claiming the sacramental blessings of marriage as something that should be available to all Christians, whether gay or straight.

  • But insisting that LGBT Protestants be granted access to the sacrament of marriage is theologically errant and, more importantly, strategically misguided in the effort to move more moderate Protestants toward marriage equality within and well beyond Protestant churches.
    As the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer makes clear, “There are two Sacraments ordained of Christ our Lord in scripture, that is to say, 
Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord.” The historical documents of the prayerbook go on to explain, in strident Reformation tones:
    Those five commonly called Sacraments, that is to say, Confirmation, Penance, Orders, 
Matrimony, and Extreme Unction, are not to be counted for Sacraments of the Gospel, 
being such as have grown partly of the corrupt following of the Apostles, partly are states of 
life allowed in the Scriptures; but yet have not like nature of Sacraments with Baptism, and 
the Lord's Supper, for that they have not any visible sign or ceremony ordained of God (872, XXV).
    This is no mere theological quibbling. The cornerstone of Reformation theology developed by Martin Luther, then adapted by John Calvin on its way to the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, was the idea that human beings could not ourselves determine what God had marked as sure indicators of God's grace in us. Rather, Luther argued that scripture alone (sola scriptura) pointed to what God has ordained as the holy rites essential to the salvation of every Christian—these being Baptism and Eucharist only.

  • Here, he was arguing against the “corrupt following of the Apostles” through Roman Catholic “sacraments”—confirmation, holy orders, penance (following confession), extreme unction (last rites), and, yes, matrimony—that were human social inventions that could be, and had been, tainted by human depravity and exploited for human profit (as, to be sure, other ecclesial practices would be corrupted by Reformation churches in due time).

  • Specifically, Luther attacked penance, and extreme unction, which had come to be monetized most (in)famously though the selling of indulgences. But Luther further insisted that no human status—being a priest, a vowed religious, or a married person—was greater in the eyes of God than any other. And, no human activity was more important to the integrated Christian community understood metaphorically as "the Body of Christ" than another.

  • John Calvin, thus, insists in his Institutes:
    The last of all this [discussion of sacraments] is marriage, which, while all admit it to be an institution of God, no man ever saw to be a sacrament, until the time of [Pope] Gregory. And would it ever have occurred to the mind of any sober man? It is a good and holy ordinance of God. And agriculture, architecture, shoemaking, and shaving, are lawful ordinances of God; but they are not sacraments. For in a sacrament, the thing required is not only that it be a work of God, but that it be an external ceremony appointed by God to confirm a promise. That there is nothing of the kind in marriage, even children can judge.
    For Protestant reformers, then, Christians were all one, holy priesthood, albeit with different individual vocations, many of these—tilling the earth, bearing children, and so on—instituted by God in scripture but not marked as special rites unambiguously conferring grace. Rites associated with these vocations, however much they carried the potential to invite God's grace, were humanly ordered actions that did not change the spiritual status of the persons involved nor specifically signify the presence of grace. That is, no human action could elevate or lower our status in the eyes of God. And neither the rite of holy orders nor of matrimony ensured that the persons participating in the rite had, in fact, received God’s grace. Only Baptism and Eucharist offered this certainty, and, again, only these were viewed as true sacraments.

  • In the early Church of England, it was the idea that marriage was not a sacrament—that it was not God who had joined two people together in holy matrimony, but rather a human person vested with the authority of church and state—that allowed Henry VIII sufficient theological wiggle room to divorce his first wife, the ardent Catholic Catherine of Aragon, so he could marry the reform-minded Anne Boleyn. If humans had joined two people in matrimony, the argument went (and goes), humans could tear the union asunder.

  • Five centuries later, this thinking about the human shaping of and authority over custom, rather than sacrament, of marriage turned out to have great value in moving marriage equality forward in moderate and progressive Protestant churches.

  • In fact, one of the important arguments for marriage equality is founded exactly on the Protestant insistence that, unlike Baptism and Eucharist, marriage is a human custom, the participants in which are specially blessed in the church. As such, its customary rules and structure can change as human societies evolve. Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, put it this way:
    The theology of marriage has evolved over time, with biblical examples including polygamy, concubinage, and other forms of relationship no longer sanctioned in The Episcopal Church. We no longer expect that one partner promise to obey the other, that parents give away their children to be married, or that childbearing is the chief purpose of marriage.
    Marriage, like other humanly constructed social arrangements, changes as human experience changes. Theoretically at least, the scripturally ordained sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist do not. (Here, it's probably worth noting that the same limited sacramental theology in the Protestant tradition was likewise marshaled to support the ordination of the many women and LGBT clergy now compassionately, but errantly, advocating for the full inclusion of LGBT Christians in the "sacrament" of marriage.)

  • The irony is that a more conservative Reformation understanding of sacraments allows more progressive theological adaptation of the marriage rite.

  • Invoking the language of sacraments in relation to marriage in general and marriage equality in particular is surely meant to highlight the specialness of the rite in the lives of the people who enter into it. Indeed, the Episcopal prayerbook can be seen as encouraging this confusion when it distinguishes sacraments proper (Baptism and Eucharist) from sacramental rites, which “although they are means of grace…are not necessary for all persons in the same way that Baptism and Eucharist are” (BCP 860).

  • How are Baptism and Eucharist so especially sacramental? They are, the Book of Common Prayer explains, “sure and certain means by which we receive that grace” given by Christ. Unromantic though this may sound, marriage, at least fifty percent of married people will likely ultimately attest, is more of a crap shoot where grace is concerned. Rituals related to committing yourself to another in marriage, like rituals related to becoming a minister of the church, can be "a means of grace," but there are no scriptural guarantees.
    The bottom line here is that calling marriage a sacrament, even for the most good-hearted of reasons, undermines one of the important theological claims for marriage equality among Protestant Christians—including moderate Evangelical Christians who are increasingly coming around to marriage equality in no small measure because they understand the less-than-sacramental nature of heterosexual marriages.

  • Marriages falter, people across the Protestant denominational spectrum understand. Marriages fail. Neither the gender of the participants nor a claim on divine sanction of the union seems to have much of an effect on this sad reality.

  • But, more hopefully, because marriage, for Protestants—one more time with Reformation feeling—is not a sacrament, it can be changed. And may Lutherans, Calvinists, Episcopalians, Baptists, Congregationalists, Methodists, and sundry other Protestants be graced in doing so.


Flavius Hesychius said...

But, more hopefully, because marriage, for Protestants—one more time with Reformation feeling—is not a sacrament, it can be changed. And may Lutherans, Calvinists, Episcopalians, Baptists, Congregationalists, Methodists, and sundry other Protestants be damned in doing so.

I fixed that error. Seriously, I feel like this article is satire or something.

Gene said...

The picture is disgusting, the whole idea is sick and perverted, and it is one of many symptoms of a dying culture. The corrections that would save us, at this point, would have to be so repressive and violent ( I don't mind that) that I don't think it can happen. We would need a swing to the right that would make Francisco Franco look like Anon2 or Mister Rogers. I hope for it, but I do not see it happening.

John Nolan said...

The idea that Matrimony is not a sacrament surely derives from the fact that it was not instituted by Christ himself. Before we start castigating Protestants (and I shall indeed castigate them if they advance heretical opinions) it might be salutary to examine the preamble to Matrimony in the Book of Common Prayer.

'... an honourable estate, instituted of God in the time of man's innocency, signifying unto us the mystical union which is betwixt Christ and his Church ... First, it was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name ...'

I can't see Catholics arguing with that.

Anonymous 2 said...


As you “don’t mind”, indeed "hope for." violence and repression, perhaps you should convert to Islam and then go and live in the new ISIS caliphate that is forming in Iraq and Syria thanks to the violent solution to the problem of Saddam Hussein foisted upon us and the rest of the world by George Bush and His Merry Men (and Maid Condi) (don’t say you weren’t warned). You would probably feel right at home.

Gene said...

Anon 2, You are twisting words and meanings just like Ignotus…but, you are a lawyer, after all. LOL!
I hope for a swing to the right…a big one. It would be nice if that could happen without violence, but I doubt that is possible.

Anonymous 2 said...

No, Gene, I am not twisting words. I am reading them. And I_can_read precisely because I_do_have a legal training. It is you who are twisting words, your own words, by ripping one phrase out of its context (you know, like people do with the Pope). But such spin is so par for the course nowadays that perhaps you do not even realize you are doing it.

Gene said...

Anon 2, saying I would not mind violence does not mean I wish for it. Saying I hope for a swing to the right does not mean I hope it is violent. From this point forward, my attitude toward your posts can best be captured thusly: Je m'en foutisme.

Anonymous 2 said...

I am not going to argue with you any more about this, Gene. Readers can judge for themselves.

Desiree said...

Protestants are Protestants because they don't want to be told what to do. To them, Christianity is based on feelings. God will lead each Protestant to do what feels right. Everyone is their own authority. The king did this so he could divorce and remarry.
So, why wouldn't we expect that a man would want to marry another man; or that a woman would want to marry another woman? If it feels right, then it is! Right?
Soon people will be marrying dolphins. Mark my words.
Beastiality and homosexuality are condemned in the same verse in the Bible. That's foreshadowing!

George said...

By not recognizing marriage, Holy Matrimony, as a sacrament instituted by God Himself, we are now seeing in our own time what this error leads to. Marriage was conceived and instituted by God from the beginning. Were not Adam and Eve married? if not, were they then no more than those who cohabitate ? If you say that they were no more than those who cohabitate, are you then saying they were no more than just animals? Since we know we are more than just animals and can offend God by sin, We know from acknowledging the precepts of God that cohabitation is sinful behavior. God has given us a share in his creative power. He has elevated the union of man and woman into a sacrament,since he Himself has a part in it by infusing the soul at human conception.
Everything holds together only as long as we accept, acknowledge and obey God's pre-ordained laws and His created order. If one does not recognize that life begins at conception, then contraception and abortion become permissible.. If one does not recognize that Marriage was instituted by God with our first parents, then it can then be re-defined by man. The sacraments of the Church are the pinnacle of God's covenantal relationship with man which began with that first covenant between God and Adam and Eve.

JBS said...

John Nolan,

Heresy alert! "If anyone says that matrimony is not truly and properly one of the seven sacraments of the evangelical law, instituted by Christ the Lord, but has been devised by men in the Church and does not confer grace, let him be anathema." Trent, Session XXIV, canon I.

John Nolan said...


I'm not arguing with Trent, but the Protestants were not alleging that matrimony was devised by men in the Church and did not confer grace. The evangelical law was indeed instituted by OLJC, and matrimony subsumed into it, but to say that matrimony predates the sacramental system is not per se heresy.

George said...

John Nolan:
"but to say that matrimony predates the sacramental system is not per se heresy."
I agree with you. It was formalized within the Church sacramental system but pre-dates the other sacraments.

Joseph and Mary, for instance, were indeed married as were Abraham and Sarah.
John Paul II referred to it as the Primordial sacrament.

"instituted by Christ the Lord,"

'What God has joined together...' Christ is God, is He not?

Anonymous said...

The problem here for catholics, there is not just protestant theology. There are multiple protestant theologies.

Some Anglicans hold to 7 sacraments.

Some protestants hold to marriage as a union created by God.

Some catholics give lip service to the sacraments and then ignore them as their feelings dictate. Just like protestants.

My Methodist sister divorced her husband. I told her she could not as their situation did not fit the reasoning Jesus gives for allowing divorce. She did it anyway. Though she has not remarried.

My catholic friends who have divorce, I told them the same thing. Both the Methodist and Catholics ignored me, plain teachings of Jesus as shown in scripture and the teachings of the Catholic Church. All my catholic friends remarried. This is know by their priests, they did not get annulments. They receive the Eucharist every Sunday. Feelings are a protestant and catholic issue.

Picking fringe protestant groups and labeling all protestants is unfair. Just as some protestants, catholics and the media have unfair labeled priests for the actions of a very very few.

For the record....the episcopal church is not in communion with the vast majority of the Anglican Communion. Maybe just the ACiC and the CoE. Using the episcopal body to reference Anglican theology is fairly lazy and insulting to Anglicans.

And some of the biggest supporters of so call homosexual unions are catholic politicians and the majority of the laity, if polls are correct. Something about glass houses comes to mind.

So, how about getting our respective houses in order, working together and defeating this culture of death Pope St John Paul II talked about.

musing for an Anglican priest.


Gene said...

Mark/Anglican, What you say is certainly correct. The hypocrisy of many Catholics is disgusting, and the dissent among Catholics is disturbing. But, protestant theology (neo-protestantism as seen in Schleiermacher, Ritschl, Barth, and others) has had a huge influence upon Catholic theology and worship. Generally speaking, the majority of protestant denominations owe a huge debt to Calvin (with the exception of, perhaps, Anglicanism) and the logic of Calvinism leads to universalism and indifferentism, as well as to a "totalitarianism of Grace" Christology which makes the Church irrelevant.