Matrimony as a 'Sacrament' or a 'Sacred Rite'

Discussion in 'Sacraments, Sacred Rites, and Holy Orders' started by JonahAF, Feb 19, 2022.

  1. JonahAF

    JonahAF Moderator Staff Member Typist Anglican

    Posts:
    237
    Likes Received:
    221
    This is my first theological study of this kind written in a public forum, but a recent discussion on social media was a nudge to perhaps develop this question in a fertile way.

    The question revolves around what the Anglican divines (and the church fathers) understood by the word "sacrament," and whether Matrimony falls under that category. This was brought on by our recent publication of two works on matrimony by the Anglican Divines:

    Edmund Bunnius, No Divorce and Re-marriage for Adultery (1595)
    John Howson, Remarriage Be Not Permitted After Adultery / Uxore dimissa propter fornicationem aliam non licet superinducere (1602)

    The argument in these texts (and the wider Anglican tradition) is that the marital bond is indissoluble. These works criticize both the Reformed tradition for making the marital bond breakable (thereby secularizing it); and the Roman tradition for turning marriage and many other things into sacraments, thereby confusing "overturning" what a sacrament even is. Thus the Anglican tradition teaches that the marital bond is indissoluble, without resorting to having to make it into a sacrament.

    On the Facebook post where we announced the John Howson text, there ensued a conversation:

    thread.jpg

    Instead of further filling up Facebook, I thought it might be better the post the reply here.

    And thus, here goes.

    ------

    First, it is clear that St. Augustine refers to marriage as a 'sacramentum' in this text: On the Good of Marriage / De Bono Coniugali. However he also refers to memory as a 'sacramentum' in this text: The Answer to Faustus (link). The reason seems to be, that 'sacramentum' at that time still being mostly a translation from the Greek, the word had not yet become reified and understood in the later technical sense. It is as likely as not that in these texts it means literally the greek 'mysterion,' ie. mystery: the mystery of marriage, and the mystery of memory.

    It may be significant that St. Augustine never does apply his definition of a sacrament to Marriage, and parse out precisely what are the signs and what are the things signified. This explains why to this day there is no consensus of how the definition should apply to marriage: some say that the sign is the ring, others that perhaps it is the ceremony, while others suggest something else altogether. This difficulty of parsing marriage into the 'signs' and the 'things signified' points to the very simple fact, that it hasn't been done in St. Augustine's works themselves. He did not seem to parse either the 'marriage sacramentum' or the 'memory sacramentum' through the lens of the definition.

    Furthermore, this discussion should probably be taken together with the testimony of the rest of the Church Fathers, the detailed discussions from St. Cyril and St. Ambrose which list the sacraments and discuss them. We should also add the fact that the first technical use of marriage as a sacrament dates from the 12th century on.

    A patristic study by by the Roman Catholic Bishops, "The Sacramentality of Marriage in the Fathers", says this:
    "The idea of marriage as a “sacrament,” in the more technical sense of the term we find developed in medieval and contemporary theologians, had not explicitly arisen."


    However: we do have a place where St. Augustine applies his definition of a sacrament to the rites of the Church. And there he seems to yield only two:

    "at the present time, after that the proof of our liberty has shone forth so clearly in the resurrection of our Lord, we are not oppressed with the heavy burden of attending even to those signs which we now understand, but our Lord Himself, and apostolic practice, have handed down to us a few rites in place of many, and these at once very easy to perform, most majestic in their significance, and most sacred in the observance; namely those of the sacrament of baptism, and the celebration of the body and blood of the Lord." (De Doctrina Christiana, III.9), https://faculty.georgetown.edu/jod/augustine/ddc3.html

    It thus seems to be the case, that in agreement with the rest of the Patristic tradition, St. Augustine saw only two sacraments that were established "by our Lord Himself, and apostolic practice." Since marriage dates to the beginning of creation in Genesis, it could hardly date to the New Testament. However he does name marriage and memory as sacraments in a few of his works; to reconcile which, we may take the word as a translation, and prior to having acquired a technical meaning.

    All of your thoughts, corrections, and discussions, are most certainly welcome. We are all edified if an error is corrected.
     
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2022
  2. CRfromQld

    CRfromQld Moderator Staff Member

    Posts:
    460
    Likes Received:
    217
    Country:
    Australia
    Religion:
    Anglican
    The question about sacrament is a bit out of my depth but I wonder about Re-marriage.
    My understanding is the OT when it allowed divorce would not allow re-marriage to the same person but did allow re-marriage to a different spouse.
     
  3. bwallac2335

    bwallac2335 Well-Known Member

    Posts:
    1,723
    Likes Received:
    1,018
    Religion:
    ACNA
    A hard look at history shows that annulments are some development that took place after the 1000's. I don't know the exact date, is a catholic innovation, and should be gotten rid of. In another thread in the past I listed all the local synods and penetintials that allowed divorce under certain circumstances and what the menace was for divorce and remarriage. These were all in the West btw. If we go back and look at the east you see more allowance for divorce and remarriage with a penance attached. I can recall at the top of my head the first writings on it being with St. Basil although Origen mentions some Bishops allowing it.

    As for it being a sacrament or not I just don't know. That is higher than my pay grade
     
  4. JonahAF

    JonahAF Moderator Staff Member Typist Anglican

    Posts:
    237
    Likes Received:
    221
    Bunnius seems to argue in the text above the that the OT did not so much permit divorce as merely record its existence among them.
     
  5. JonahAF

    JonahAF Moderator Staff Member Typist Anglican

    Posts:
    237
    Likes Received:
    221
    Saint Augustine also labels as 'sacramentum' the Salt used in Baptism, in the patristic church:
    -De Peccat. et Remiss. ii. 26
    -De Catech. Rud. 50