Magazine article U.S. Catholic

What Is the History of Marriage?

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

What Is the History of Marriage?

Article excerpt

Before the obligatory "Ave Maria" and a crazy aunt leading "YMCA" at the reception, guests at a Catholic wedding witness "a covenant by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life and which is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation of children." But this was not always the case. For more than a thousand fears of church history, this idea of marriage faced plenty of healthy competition.

Jesus lived and preached in a world that saw marriage primarily as an economic contract. Jews considered marriage a commandment, but one intended to benefit the wider community by ensuring stability and economic prosperity.

Proverbs 31, today proclaimed at weddings as a poetic tribute to wifely virtue, would have sounded to its original audience like a job description. Can she oversee slaves? Does she understand viniculture? Can she spin both wool and flax? Not only were these skills worth more than rubies, they were far more practical.

By contrast, early Christian communities promoted celibacy and often scorned marriage, since marrying and establishing a household distracted people from preparing for the kingdom of God.

Still, limiting the community to only celibate followers had some obvious drawbacks. Instead, early Christians outlawed divorce, polygamy, and incest.

Attempting to find a role for marriage that did not conflict with their communitarian ideals, some early Christian writers suggested that marriage "has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament" because Jesus performed his first public miracle at a wedding. …

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