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Monday, May 28, 2012

On Marriage

I get questions from readers occasionally that piques my interest. This one asked me to explain marriage in light of a fairly dippy work by a man named Joseph Martos:
Joseph Martos is the author of a highly regarded work on the sacraments called Doors to the Sacred, A Historical Introduction to Sacraments in the Catholic Church. In that work, he writes, "During the first three centuries of Christianity, churchmen had no legal say in the matter of marriages, divorces, and remarriages." Furthermore, he wrote, "There was no liturgical ceremony for marriage as there was for baptism and the Eucharist." It wasn't until the year 400 or so, that Christians were bidden to seek an ecclesiastical blessing on their marriages. (It is interesting to note that the only ones obliged to do that were married bishops, married priests and married deacons.) As far as we know, the idea of marriage as a sacrament was first proposed by St. Augustine, the first and only patristic author to write extensively about sex and marriage. Even after Augustine, through the seventh century, "Christians could still get married in a purely secular ceremony." Marriage was declared a sacrament for the first time by the Synod of Verona in 1184. The Church didn't deem marriage definitely indissoluble until the Council of Florence in 1439. (Martos , pp. 409-434.)
Now, a really good comprehensive discussion of marriage can be found in the Catholic Encyclopedia.

As you can see from that encyclopedia article, Martos is completely clueless.

If he can't even get the testimony of the Fathers right, then he can't get ANYTHING right.
But even the Catholic Encyclopedia, while it gives some Fathers' testimony, is not comprehensive on this point.

For instance, you can find numerous homilies by Chrysostom on marriage - it, along with holy poverty, was one of his favorite subjects.

Now, as the Catholic Encyclopedia article points out, the word "sacrament" did not have the narrow technical meaning in the third century that it has today, but that doesn't mean anything. After all, if we insist that this has deep relevance, then we must likewise insist that we can't say God is three Persons until well after the Council of Chalcedon, since a precise definition of HOW Christ is God, one Person with two natures, is not defined until then. 

Such a position is absurd. The late date of the definition doesn't mean we didn't believe Jesus is God until then, it just means that we hadn't thought through all the bits of what the phrase meant to say until then.

It is very much like saying that, since an infant can't say "mother" or "father", the child does not, in fact, have any parents until s/he is at least two or three years old and able to name them correctly. 

Most of Catholic Faith is an in-depth meditation on what we are given, connecting the dots between all the points. The more carefully we think, the more carefully we connect the dots, the more careful our language becomes as we try to preserve our understanding of the connections, connections that pre-existed our thinking about them.

The consistent use of a word does not bring the thing it describes into existence, rather, the consistent use of a word merely shows a more mature understanding of both the word and the thing it describes on the part of the person using the word. The thing exists apart from the mature use of the word that describes the thing.

Unfortunately, Martos appears to be a nominalist - he thinks language, particularly human language - is what brings something into existence. Now, language DOES bring things into existence, but only God's Word does that, not ours. God imparts, we just try to describe.

So, instead of believing "God said, 'Let there be light' " Martos would presumably teach "And Martos says, 'Let there be marriage' and there was marriage, and it came into existence when Martos said because he said that's when it happened". 

Utter crap, utterly unsupportable by any decent historical method, pure anachronism on Martos' part, but that's what passes as scholarship nowadays. 

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