Christianity originated during the Roman empire and spread far and wide eventually transforming the Roman state’s religion. Church views marriage as the most sacred relationship and a lifelong partnership ordained by Jesus.
The history of Christian marriages right from the early years of Christianity has been described here.
In the Greece-Roman period, marriages happened between members of the same tribe. The woman was considered legally married after her betrothal to the man. No religious ceremony was held to solemnize the marriage, even though feasts were organized to formalize the marriage. Men were allowed to have a concubine from the lower class of society, to act as a physical slave. Polygamy was not prohibited. The early adherents of Christianity adopted the Roman version of marriages. Altogether, women were treated as the property of men with little or no rights.
By the time Augustus started ruling the empire, Christian marriages became fairer to women and they were given the rights to own properties and have more say in a marriage. The New Testament describes Jesus preaching against divorce and saying that marriage is a relationship among equals. New Testament prohibits polygamy and ordains only one wife.Marriages during the early times of Christianity were not solemnized in churches and seeking the blessings of pastors was not mandatory.
Christianity considered celibacy and the absence of family ties as virtues and did not take part in wedding ceremonies. Christian marriages did not feature priests till the 12th century and it was only during the 13th century that priests started presiding over marriages. In fact, Christian wedding ceremonies commenced only in the 9th century.The church was able to exert its influence among various European tribes after the demise of the Roman empire and abolished many practices such as purchasing of brides along with polygamy.
Rules and Regulations
Catholic Church was able to regulate marriages eventually and made marriage a sacrament. Divorce was entirely prohibited and many rules and regulations were put in place to allow or prohibit certain marriages. Marriage between relatives was declared illegal. Even the family members and relatives of both the sides of a couple were declared relatives and marriages between them were banned.
A tradition of Christianity considered marriage as only for those who cannot be celibate and treated the institution of marriage with contempt. This tradition viewed marriage as nothing more than the only legitimate way of producing off springs. Church in the medieval times blamed women for disrupting celibacy of men and looked down upon them
Reformists Luther and Calvin protested against marriage being a sacrament and asserted that the church has no role in marriage and cannot regulate it. Catholic Church persevered and imposed more rules and regulations on Christian marriages. Catholic Church still has the power to dissolve marriages in some countries. In the modern times, however, the state has the sole power to regulate marriages. Till the 20th century, women remained in subordinate position in marriages.
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