For those wondering what fork I took last night, I stayed in College Station and did what needed to be done. March 30 is now only about 10 days away....someone throw a clock out the window!
In other news, I received an e-mail from one of my best friends regarding an earlier post on here (actually several questions about a few posts, but this one ended at the top of the list when I printed stuff out). The post was that on The Sacrifce of the Mass, the high Catholic term for sacrament of holy communion.
The orginal post can be found here. Bottom of the page, February 1st.
Here is the question:
Here are some thoughts on Part 2 of an Ongoing Series: The Sacrifice of the Mass.
Sacraments are something I really have a hard time understanding. The Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms defines sacramentum as a holy rite that is both a sign and a means of grace. According to that definition, a sacrament must have some gospel reference point. If we stick with that definition, do any holy rites besides baptism and communion fit into that category?
Let's look at marriage in particular. We find marriage as a symbol of the relationship of Christ and the Church. Marriage was also something that predated the fall and the church. In other words, marriage was around before grace was needed. Additionally, marriage is available to those outside of the "covenant community." Pagans can get married and enjoy the benefits therein.
Marriage as a direct sign of grace is suspect because it predates the fall. Additionally, it is difficult to see how marriage represents or points back to cleansing from sin.
Now here is my response:
Is marriage both a sign and means of grace? My initial thought is to ask any married couple if they receive grace in their marriage to avoid not killing each other at times, but that’s not a good enough answer. What I am going to attempt here is to make a case for marriage being a sacrament, though it may be poorly done.
Looking at marriage in particular, it is a symbol of the relationship of Christ and His Church, it predated the fall and the Church. It was around before grace was needed and it is practiced by those outside the Church, the “covenant community.” Pagans can be married, but I wonder if they can fully enjoy the benefits therein.
If marriage is to be a sacrament it must stand fully unique from all others. Baptism and communion must be administered by an ordained minister; marriage is performed between the man and woman, with God as a witness of what He joins together.
Let me touch on the issue of pagan marriage. Looking at the ceremony as we have it today in the modern age, there is one very glaring pagan aspect in a wedding that is not questioned. The rings! The ring of marriage finds its roots in pagan religions. Yet, would any Christian wedding today go without the rings, circular bands representing a promise, a covenant, between husband and wife and God. Usually made of a finite material, a precious metal only of this plane of existence and circular a shape with no beginning and no end, used as a symbol to represent something greater than what it is, just a piece of metal on one’s left ring finger.
However as J.H. Newman wrote in Essay 369:
“The use of temples, and these dedicated to particular saints, and ornamented on occasions with the branches of trees; incense, lamps, and candles; votive offerings on recovery from illness; holy water; asylums; holydays and seasons, use of calendars, processions, blessings on the fields; sacerdotal vestments, the tonsure, the ring in marriage, turning to the East, images at a later date, perhaps the ecclesiastical chant, and the Kyrie Eleison, are all of pagan origin, and sanctified by their adoption into the Church.”
Man is born with the knowledge of God, though he may imperfectly know Him, as we see throughout history, man has sought to know He that is greater than himself. It’s almost instinctive to know there is something greater than oneself. However, since the fall man’s rebellion lead to many forgetting the one, true God. Yet they still knew there was something greater. Even in their turning from Him, worshipping false god’s, there must have been a sliver of truth that remained in the error. The knowledge of a greater being, the knowledge of the need to worship, even as Paul notes, the Unknown God, remained ingrained as a part of the human experience. Christians removed the error from these ways, purifying them and applying them to Christian belief and understanding. This ended the pagan connection that once existed with these forms resulting in outright replacement, not compromise.
Marriage was instituted by God, yet it becomes more error filled with the pagan. The knowledge of marriage is there, most likely handed down in societal structures but somewhere losing its meaning and value. The sliver of truth that marriage exists for a reason (and I’ll get to this later, be patient) remains though distorted and lost to the errors.
In the beginning, the first marriage, Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden were given the command of marriage, be fruitful and multiply. God having created them in His image was opening the curtain just ever so slightly. Through the bond of becoming one flesh in the marriage act, God was allowing His creation to assist Him in the process of creation. How great an honor could He bestow upon man and woman than to assist in His creation by bringing forth new life?
By creating humanity in His own image, God inscribes upon the humanity of man and woman the vocation, the capacity, and the responsibility of love and communion. Love is the most fundamental and innate calling of every human being and it shown forth in the great commandment to love God with all one’s being and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Marriage becomes an earthly foreshadowing of heavenly reality of perfect love and communion.
Now after the fall, marriage and what it was fell along with the rest of the world. Divorce was not permitted in the Garden, yet it became so after the fall. The commandments spell out that “Thou shall not commit adultery.” In the Garden, grace was abundant and sin not even on the radar that this would never have been a problem. However, we see Christ restore marriage to its proper place, by purifying its fallen state. Christ is explicit that divorce was not so from the beginning and that Moses allowed divorce due to the hardness of heart, but that from the beginning it was not so. It was a pure union of male and female..
The argument could be made that all sacraments of the new covenant find a certain prototype in marriage. The marriage of Christians is a living sign that truly communicates the love Christ and the Church.. The lives of the spouses lived out in daily commitment to each other, and most specifically in the “one flesh” union, could be said to constitute a living sign. For as Paul states “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the church.” (Ephesians 5:31-32). Within the gift of the eucharist, the Christian family finds it foundation, even it’s very soul in its “communion” and mission, to love as God loves.
Marriage in the beginning was a grace filled institution for it was pure and without blemish. If men and women are to experience marriage as God intended it to be in the beginning, it stands to reason that they must renounce all that is contrary to God’s plan and continuously surrender themselves to the grace of redemption., the cross of Christ. It was humanity’s turning away from God that got us to this point in the first place, distorting our relationships with each other and with God. Does it not then mean that marriage between Christians is a transformational and not merely informational?
That said what Calvin said on the matter was this:
"Institutions", IV, xix, 34, says: "Lastly, there is matrimony, which all admit was instituted by God, though no one before the time of Gregory regarded it as a sacrament. What man in his sober senses could so regard it? God's ordinance is good and holy; so also are agriculture, architecture, shoemaking, hair-cutting legitimate ordinances of God, but they are not sacraments".
The reference to Gregory, I can only assume, dates to the Council of Florence., where the issue was raised of marriage being a sacrament or not. Thus the Gregory in question I believe is Gregory XII who was Bishop of Rome from 1406-1415. He was succeeded by Martin V (1417-1431). Perhaps Calvin was unaware of Innocent IV (1243-1254) in a confession of faith prescribed for a group called the Waldensians included matrimony among the sacraments. It reads as follows:
"And we by no means reject the sacraments which are administered in it (the Catholic Church), with the co-operation of the inestimable and invisible power of the Holy Ghost, even though they be administered by a sinful priest, provided the Church recognizes him",
The formula then takes up each sacrament in particular, touching especially on those points which the Waldensians had denied:
"Therefore we approve of baptism of children . . . confirmation administered by the bishop . . . the sacrifice of the Eucharist. . . . We believe that pardon is granted by God to penitent sinners . . . we hold in honour the anointing of the sick with consecrated oil . . . we do not deny that carnal marriages are to be contracted, according to the words of the Apostle."
It is, therefore, historically certain that from the beginning of the thirteenth century the sacramental character of marriage was universally known and recognized as a dogma. The only one of the seven sacraments held by the Western Church missing there is that of holy orders, or ordination.
Let’s wind the clock back some more….all the way back to before 430 (the year of his death) and Augustine of Hippo.
“Among all people and all men the good that is secured by marriage consists in the offspring and in the chastity of married fidelity; but, in the case of God's people [the Christians], it consists moreover in the holiness of the sacrament, by reason of which it is forbidden, even after a separation has taken place, to marry another as long as the first partner lives . . . just as priests are ordained to draw together a Christian community, and even though no such community be formed, the Sacrament of Orders still abides in those ordained, or just as the Sacrament of the Lord, once it is conferred, abides even in one who is dismissed from his office on account of guilt, although in such a one it abides unto judgment." –from "De bono conjugii"( chap. xxiv in P.L., XL, 394)
"Undoubtedly it belongs to the essence of this sacrament that, when man and wife are once united by marriage, this bond remains indissoluble throughout their lives. As long as both live, there remains a something attached to the marriage, which neither mutual separation nor union with a third can remove; in such cases, indeed, it remains for the aggravation of the guilt of their crime, not for the strengthening of the union. Just as the soul of an apostate, which was once similarly wedded unto Christ and now separates itself from Him, does not, in spite of its loss of faith, lose the Sacrament of Faith, which it has received in the waters of regeneration." –from "De nuptiis et concupiscentia (I, x, in P.L., XLIV, 420),
As early as 430, the leaders of the Church placed marriage, which Augustine identifies as a sacrament, on the level of baptism and holy orders, ordination. Now, allow me to use the assumption that holy orders is a sacrament, because it is another subject entirely to research the views that is a sacrament or not, I will let Augustine argue for me. Augustine considers baptism and holy orders to be sacraments in the strictest sense and on equal footing with these he places Christian marriage.
And moving the “Way Back” machine into the second century, before he went heretical we have Tertullian and his work “Ad Uxiorem”:
"If therefore such a marriage is pleasing to God, wherefore should it not turn out happily, so that it will not be troubled by afflictions and needs and obstacles and contaminations, since it enjoys the protection of the Divine grace?"
"How can we describe the happiness of those marriages which the Church ratifies, the sacrifice strengthens, the blessing seals, the angels publish, the Heavenly Father propitiously beholds?"
Carrying more weight than even the testimony of the early Church fathers regarding the sacramental character of marriage is the stance of the Eastern and Western churches. The essential features of each can be traced to Apostolic ordinances. East and West both agree that marriage is a sacrament. Even those that separated from the Church early in her history treat marriage a sacrament. The Nestorians, Monophysites, Copts, Jacobites, etc., all agree with the Eastern and Western Churches. The sacramental nature of marriage has never been a matter of dispute between the West and the East.
There is a great deal of correspondence (circa 1576-1581) between Tubingen professors, defenders of the Reformation and the Greek patriarch, Jeremias. It terminated with the latter’s indignantly scouting the suggestion that he could be won over the doctrine of only two sacraments, and his solemn recognition of the doctrine of seven, including marriage., as the constant teaching of the Greek and Eastern Church. About fifty years or so later the Patriarch Cyril Lucar, who had adopted the Reformed doctrine of only two sacraments, was for that reason publicly declared a heretic by the Synods of Constantinple in 1638 and 1642 and by that of Jerusalem in 1672, evidence to how firmly the seven sacraments, including marriage were maintained in the Easter Church.
Remember the split between the East and West occurred in the 1000’s. So we either have the East and West concluding that marriage was a sacrament independently of each other as well as the early church’s that split due to heresy, or we have the knowledge that even as early as the second century it was viewed by the Church as a sacrament and that taken in whole, it has always been taught as such until more recent times and more recent theological errors.
Your thoughts dear reader...leave a comment.