Marriage as a Religious and a Legal Concept

By Albrecht, Christian | Currents in Theology and Mission, December 2002 | Go to article overview

Marriage as a Religious and a Legal Concept


Albrecht, Christian, Currents in Theology and Mission


It may be surprising when, in my contribution to the debate about women after the Reformation, I focus on the institution of marriage or, to be more precise, on the religious and legal understanding of marriage. However, it is my conviction that the Reformation brought about a threefold change in the perception of women, thereby starting a process which has neither lost its significance nor yet come to completion. The first aspect is the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, which implies an enhanced religious competence of women. The second aspect is the abolition of celibacy in the Protestant church, which led to the construction of a new model, namely, the family of a pastor in which the pastor's wife plays an enhanced role in the house and especially in the education of children. The third aspect is that of a new understanding of a woman as a partner in marriage, and this is due to a changed legal concept of marriage. I mainly want to address this last point, for here we can gain a distinct underst anding of the social and cultural consequences of the Reformation for the self-understanding of women and their real options for life in society.

I suggest a simple proposition: The Reformation brought into line the secular practice and the religious interpretation of marriage. I develop this proposition in three steps. First, I show that a problematic tension had arisen in the pre-Reformation period between the secular practice and the religious concept of marriage. Second, I identify the main arguments that the Reformers, and Luther in particular, used in order to defuse this tension. Third, I look at the consequences and limits of this conceptual modification.

Medieval Catholicism

We need to remind ourselves that the medieval church contributed greatly to the establishment of marriage as a legal institution. The eleventh and twelfth centuries saw the founding of cities at an increasing pace. This was mainly based on the economic conditions of craftsmen, merchants, and farmers. Within this social context, and especially since the fourteenth century, a legally concluded marriage no longer remained the privilege of the nobility. Instead, it became possible to enter into marriage on an economic basis provided by trade and farming. Thus, certain sections of the population, which so far had not been able to marry, acquired the right to become independent from extended households and could set up their own households. (This process eventually contributed to the evolution of early modern society.) The medieval church supported this development by encouraging a form of marriage based on mutual consent. The legal status of marriage no longer depended on a permission to marry from parents or over lords. Rather, an agreement between a bride and a groom was sufficient for the validity of a marriage. The main purpose of ecclesiastical support for marriage by consent was to prevent the disorder of illegitimate cohabitation. At the same time, however, the church effectively made it easier for men and women to enter into a legally recognized relationship and to have legally recognized, i.e. legitimate, children. The medieval church basically contributed to the establishment of marriage as a widespread and reliable legal institution.

Hand in hand with this establishment of marriage went the church's vigorous enforcement of celibacy on the clergy and its emphasis on a qualitative difference between clerical or monastic life and married life. The status of the clergy was regarded as an outstanding status and more pleasing to God than any other form of noncelibate and noncontinent life among the laity. What had started as the promotion of a process of modernization led to an impasse with the separation between marriage as a legal institution and cultural practice on the one hand, and the devaluating religious understanding of marriage on the other. Another conflict resulted from the indissolubility of marriage after marriage had come to be seen as a sacrament in 1184 C. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Marriage as a Religious and a Legal Concept
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.