Lawfully Joined

Same-Sex Marriage in Light of the Church’s Traditional and Liturgical Practice


Tobias S. Haller, BSG






Submitted in partial fulfillment

of the requirements for the degree of

Master of Divinity





The General Theological Seminary

New York

April 1997



REVISED 2005

Copyright © 1997, 2004 Tobias S. Haller

All Rights Reserved


Lawfully Joined: Same Sex Marriage in Light of the Church’s Traditional and Liturgical Practice

Tobias S. Haller, BSG

Abstract

This paper explores same-sex marriage from a pastoral and liturgical perspective. The first portion examines issues of nature and natural law, and Jewish and Christian legal and canonical regulations of sex and marriage, with particular attention to discontinuities with the idealized myth of “lifelong, heterosexual and monogamous marriage.” The second section looks at the marriage rites for different- and same-sex couples, and explores some of the questions remaining to be addressed as the church restructures its concept of marriage and marriage rites.

Table of Contents

 

Introduction

Liturgy before (and with) theology

Life before liturgy

A question of definitions: “Marriage”

 

The Idealized Myth and the Pastoral Reality

The nature of myth

The substance of the myth at hand

The nature of law and the law of nature

A survey of the discontinuities in the tradition

Discontinuities in Anglican/Episcopal teaching and policy

Concluding observations: Pastoral perspectives and approaches

 

The Liturgical Background

Changing structures and meanings in Episcopal marriage rites

Same-sex rites: Purported and adopted

“Blessing” as a pointer towards a theology of marriage

Concluding reflection

 

Appendices

Appendix: The minority that dare not speak its name

Appendix: Why not the Orthodox?

Appendix: Episcopal (and Other) Marriage Rites

 

Works Consulted or Cited

 



Lawfully Joined

Same-Sex Marriage in Light of the Church’s Traditional and Liturgical Practice

Tobias S. Haller, BSG

Introduction

It often happens, with regard to new inventions, that one part of the general public finds them useless and another considers them to be impossible. When it becomes clear that the possibility and the usefulness can no longer be denied, most agree that the whole thing was fairly easy to discover and that they knew about it all along.
— Abraham Edelcrantz, Treatise on the Telegraph

This paper Footnote explores same-sex marriage from a pastoral and liturgical perspective. After a brief introduction, the first portion examines issues of nature and natural law, and Jewish and Christian legal and canonical regulations of sex and marriage, paying particular attention to discontinuities with the idealized myth of “lifelong, heterosexual and monogamous marriage.” This is not an exhaustive survey, but highlights significant changes in each major period. The second section of this study looks at the marriage rites for different- and same-sex couples, and begins to explore some of the questions remaining to be addressed.

             The first section shows that the acceptance of same-sex marriage requires of the church little greater pastoral flexibility than it has already demonstrated with regard to different-sex marriage. The second suggests that a critical examination of different-sex marriage, in light of the challenges and questions same-sex marriage raises, provides an avenue for a clearer and more consistent liturgical theology of marriage.

             This paper is not an apologia for homosexuality in general, rebutting arguments adduced against it, though it will address such arguments in passing as they relate to the larger concern. As to Scripture, many such apologetic studies exist, and I concur with the conclusion of New Testament scholar Robin Scroggs Footnote

Biblical judgments against homosexuality are not relevant to today’s debate. They should no longer be used in denominational discussions about homosexuality, should in no way be used as a weapon to justify refusal of ordination, not because the Bible is not authoritative, but simply because it does not address the issues involved. (Scroggs 127)

Some apologists seek to interpret the Biblical evidence so as to remove all reference to homosexuality. This strains the credulity of open-minded critics, and provides those of more polemical bent with ready ammunition to undermine even the sound arguments of such apologists. However, in the judgment typified by Scroggs, these passages relate to homosexual rape, homosexuality as punishment for or as a component of idol-worship, cultic practice, prostitution, or pederasty. The early church’s broader application of these texts to all homosexual acts arose in large part from its interaction with Stoic philosophy and Roman legal structures.

             This application on the part of the early church is irrelevant to the question of same-sex marriage, and committed, loving, same-sex relationships. It may appear shocking thus to dismiss the teaching of the early church regarding homosexuality; but as will be shown below, the church has dismissed most of what that early church taught about heterosexuality with similar ease. Unless some independent criterion for judgment is supplied, the mere fact that the early church had such-and-such a teaching is no longer a justifiable rationale for retaining it.

             Therefore, it is taken as axiomatic that heterosexuality and homosexuality are, as “An Affirmation in Koinonía” states, “morally neutral... and can be lived out with beauty, honor, holiness, and integrity...” (J 1994:155). How the church might better foster the realization of intimate, self-giving, human relationships regardless of the sex of the partners is one aim of this paper. A critical examination of different-sex marriage can provide a rationale for same-sex marriage; and an examination of same-sex marriage may provide avenues for the revitalization, reform and enrichment of different-sex marriage — for which a consistent theology has yet to be developed.

Liturgy before (and with) theology

For many, the phrase “same-sex marriage” makes as much sense as “vegetarian steak tartare.” The two concepts simply do not jibe; the phenomena of which they speak are from fundamentally different orders of experience. Those who take this view do not see the question facing the church and the state so much as “should we” but as “can we.” These critics come from every point on the political spectrum, from the militant activist who sees “gay marriage” as a surrender to an alien folkway, to the conservative ethicist who wears down the circular path of deontological reasoning (“homosexuals can’t marry because marriage is for heterosexuals”). Even in the middle, the holy ground for Anglicans (especially Anglican bishops), one finds such statements as this concerning theologians and liturgists currently working on the rationale for developing a same-sex marriage rite: “They have not made their theological case, nor do I think they can.” (Marshall 1)

             This comment indicates doubt concerning even the possibility of a theology for same-sex marriage, but indicates as well the presupposition that one needs to have a theology before one can develop a liturgy. It may also be, as was suggested to me privately, that Bishop Marhsall intended his comment as a spur to urge the theologians (and liturgists) to do their work! However, the idea that theology precedes (or should precede) liturgy, might be answered by observing that liturgy and theology are concurrent manifestations of the same “faith seeking understanding,” and as Aidan Kavanagh notes, liturgy has its own theology. He argues persuasively “that worship ... is what gives rise to theological reflection, rather than the other way around.” (Kavanagh 3) Jesus broke bread and gave the cup long before the church got down to the business of trying to construct a theology of the eucharistic presence; the rite of baptism in the name of the Trinity preceded by several generations the theological developments that would crystalize in the creed of Nicea (Kavanagh 92); and, more relevant to the study at hand, people married and were given in marriage long before the church developed or promulgated a theology of marriage. Or perhaps it would be better to say theologies of marriage — for there has been as little agreement in the church as a whole on a “theology” of marriage as on the mode of Christ’s presence in the eucharist, or the economy of the Trinity — if as much.


Life before liturgy

Theology is usually done backwards... Convictions in theology and moral theology are usually arrived at by deep and complex processes nurtured by experience and intuition... These convictions are articulated and tested by means of theological reflection on scripture and tradition. (Thomas 177)

It should not be surprising that sex, of all human capacities and activities, makes the church’s head spin; it is, as Paul Ricoeur says, “after all a matter of eros and not logos,” (Sedgwick 29) and since the church is not entirely of one mind even on the Logos (witness the theories of the Atonement and Incarnation) unity should not be expected on questions of sexual morality. The breadth of opinion about sex over the last several millennia is far wider than currently suggested, and I will review the church’s teaching and acting on sexuality, prefacing my examination of the liturgical expressions of marriage with an examination of the underlying human phenomena expressed in nature, custom, and law.

             There is every good reason to do this. Even liturgy doesn’t come first. Before the urge to ritualize finds expression in formal liturgy there must be some human experience which the ritual marks and notes with its own special character: one does not build the temple until well after the experience of the Holy and the desire to worship that mysterium tremendum et fascinans: the burning bush and the mountain top precede the tent of meeting, which itself precedes the more durable Temple. Though some express discomfort at adding Experience as a fourth leg to the traditional Anglican stool, a moment’s reflection makes it clear that Wesley no more invented “Experience” than Anglicans did “Scripture, Tradition, and Reason” — and a careful reading of Hooker will demonstrate that he was not only aware that Experience and Reason were abroad in the world before a word of Scripture was uttered, and before Tradition began its sometimes erring process of ordering and interpreting this wealth of conflicting data, but that natural reason (which involves experience) is a necessity as much as Scripture is — neither stands alone. Footnote As Charles Hefling reminds us, citing poet Charles Williams, “‘The glory of God... is in facts. The almost incredible nature of things is that there is no fact which is not in his glory.’” (Hefling 157) The facts before us do not originate in the theological dicta of the hierarchy, but the experiential data of the faithful: human experience, therefore, must be at least our beginning text for exegesis — and this is all the more true when the Scripture gives us so very little to go on.

The Biblical silence and the human response

One of the facts before us is that the Bible, while telling us bit about sex and sexuality in descriptions of human acts and legal codes, contains neither a marriage liturgy nor a theology of sexuality. Much of the church’s difficulty in finding resolution to the issues before it results from attempting to work backwards from dogmatic or systematic theology to pastoral practice — to formulate rules based on abstract principles — rather than looking at the lives of faithful people and discerning the signs of grace in them. There is little new in the tendency of ecclesiastical hierarchies to work in this way, that is, to seek theological rationales before action. The priest and Levite passed the wounded one by on theological grounds; the compassionate Samaritan exercised the merciful but irregular option.

             My approach here is to examine what Israel and the church and its members have done about marriage — regulations and laws (beginning with the biblical witness, sparse as it is) imposed and obeyed or ignored, then the rites celebrated or forbidden. The goal is to show that the teaching on sex and marriage is often in tension with the facts of sex and marriage, and that practices the church has come to allow through the pressure of what people actually do offer a context in which to place the current “discontinuity between th[e church’s] teaching and experience of many members of this body.” Footnote

             Discontinuity has long been with us, in part because theologians (especially “official” theologians) are often in tension with the world — but rarely in a prophetic Christ-against-culture mode. Footnote More often than not the church resists present change by blessing the cultural institutions of the past — not the ancient past of an undying and constant tradition, but the past of a few generations ago. Because of this lag the church’s official pronouncements are rarely prophetic, often barely relevant to the lives of those to whom they are addressed, and sometimes ludicrously out-of-date — the belated Roman Catholic apology to Galileo, and tardy acknowledgment of Darwin are recent instances.

             As late as the 1950 encyclical letter Humani Generis the Vatican affirmed the literal reality of Adam and Eve as necessary to a particular understanding of original sin and its transmission. Only by developing new models for the doctrine of original sin have Roman Catholic theologians been able to accommodate the church’s teaching to the findings of evolutionary science. Naturally, little fanfare is given to such massive revisions; matters Humani Generis referred to as “data which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the Church propose concerning original sin” were simply allowed to fall away quietly — or as quietly as the press allowed. (Neuner 125)

             This epistemological lag undermines the church’s credibility. If the church is shown to be mistaken in matters of fact which can be tested by empirical standards (the structure of the solar system, the process of evolution through natural selection), and reluctant to alter its teaching even long after the error is demonstrated, then why should it be trusted in those matters which are incapable of demonstration or proof? Put more bluntly, “If the church cannot teach accurately concerning what is plain and demonstrable about the things of this world, why should it be trusted on what is vague and difficult concerning the life of the world to come?” Footnote

             It is no solution to excuse the church by allowing it to have been beyond its competence when making pronouncements about the solar system or evolution. It was beyond its competence — but didn’t know it. In fact, it remained adamant in its claims to competency precisely when it was most deeply and demonstrably in error. Suffering from double ignorance is not a recommendation for being heeded especially in those doctrinal matters which hinge upon specific world-views. Much of the church’s teaching on sexuality is informed by “natural” principles long since shown to be false (Hellenistic and medieval biological theories of human generation). If reevaluation of such a foundational teaching as original sin can be made in the light of evidence that sheds new light on the Scripture and tradition, surely new findings in sexuality should influence an area which even some conservative thinkers admit is not a core doctrine of the Christian faith. Footnote

             Pre-scientific theories of sexuality and human biology have had significant and lasting impact on the church and the world. I use the term pre-scientific advisedly, as every age has its own science. In the ancient world most people “knew” that babies were the result of the man planting his “seed” (zarah, sperma, semen) in the fertile “earth” of the woman; this view is reflected without need for further comment in Psalm 139:14-15. The “seed” contained all that was necessary for the next generation, needing only a place to grow and nourishment, which would be provided by the earth. This view is reflected in Hebrews 7:10 where Levi is described as still being “in” his ancestor Abraham’s loins. By the time of Hippocrates and Aristotle, observant scientists had noted that the menstrual flow ceased with conception, and came to believe that the embryo was “congealed” or “compacted” by the action of the seed upon the blood which was now no longer being lost month by month. Aristotle argued further (Generation of Animals 728a10) that the pleasurable feeling experienced by men upon the “planting of the seed” represented the emission of pneuma which instilled the soul into the embryo. This view is reflected rather precisely in Wisdom 7:1-2, where “the author is characteristically unable to resist the urge to supply some of the physiological details of the formation of the embryo in accord with the latest findings of the science of his day.” (Winston 165) “Of his day” is the operative in this instance: some beliefs concerning sexuality have demonstrated remarkable resistance to correction, even among scientists. The notion that a woman is merely a passive vessel in procreation, providing fertile soil for the “seed” deposited by the man probably derives from folk perceptions, and was taken as a truism in the patristic era. Footnote However, the idea persisted well up into our own “scientific” age; discovery of the microscope confirmed the error instead of correcting it. Leeuwenhoeck (in 1678) “found” that sperm contained miniature precursors of animals and humans that would take root and grow in appropriate wombs; this finding was published by the Royal Society and confirmed by university scientists throughout Europe; it was incorporated in scientific and religious teaching for over a century thereafter. (Schmidt 116-117) Footnote Secular science is sometimes as resistant to change as the church. The double inertia in the area of sexuality has been costly in terms both of civil liberty and the realization of full human potential in the image of God in Christ, in whom there is “no more male and female.” (Gal 3.28) The extent to which the foregoing mistaken view of human generation, with its emphasis on the importance of the “seed” and the seriousness of the “loss” or “planting in unfertile soil” shaped and informed a grave judgment upon male homosexual acts, and a relatively lighter judgment upon female homosexuality, cannot be overemphasized.

             Part of the ongoing reformation of the church entails a willingness to challenge the dogmas of the past with the experience of the faithful in the present; and it is particularly vital for the church’s leaders to attend to and respond to the voices of those most directly affected by their teaching.

             The evidence these voices present ranges from the moving stories collected by Louie Crew in A Book of Revelations to the rapidly proliferating liturgies for blessing same-sex relationships in the context of supportive parish families; but it also includes the poignant message scrawled on the flyleaf of a prayer book, “Jim and Tom exchanged their vows here today in the sight of God,” as well as in numberless suicide notes; it stands in the wounded flesh of anonymous lost youth who disappear into the tunnel of despair and self-loathing in the sex-trade of the urban deserts; and in the fabric testimony of a quilt the size of a small town. This is the reality which confronts the church. Countering Wolfhart Pannenberg’s assertion that a church that recognizes same-sex relationships is forsaking the “unanimous witness” of Scripture, we may find that the church that fails to recognize same-sex relationships is far less true to the spirit of Christ and the example to which that Scripture bears witness. Footnote

 

A question of definitions: “Marriage”

Some explanation is needed for the use of the word marriage. Firstly, of late there has been a shift from euphemisms such as “union” to use of “marriage,” noted at the 1996 Consultation of Episcopalians on the Blessing of Same-Sex Unions in several presentations. Footnote Secondly, as already noted, this paper is not an apologia for gay and lesbian sex; following the Koinonía Statement, the approach here is towards affirmation of homosexual relationships to no greater nor lesser extent than heterosexual relationships, in pairings that are, in Jeffrey John’s phrase, “permanent, faithful, stable,” which is to say, marriages: an equal, not a special, rite.

             While current teaching presents an ostensibly equal limitation to all persons regardless of sexuality — sex only within a single life-long Footnote marriage — since gay and lesbian persons cannot now marry (with the church’s blessing), this stricture amounts to a demand for perfectly continent celibacy for gay or lesbian persons unwilling to seek sexual release in different-sex marriage. Footnote Moreover, the stricture is applied so selectively and unevenly that a double standard is established, and even defended. Footnote

             “No sex outside of marriage” therefore means a very different thing to a gay or lesbian person than to a heterosexual. In this sense the uneven application of the norm becomes a justice issue. As Louis Weil points out, “even Ruth Tiffany Barnhouse, no advocate of the homosexual lifestyle, acknowledges that celibacy can be imposed only at a terrible price” and describes such a demand as “unreasonable and cruel.” (Weil 174) Moreover, since celibacy is seen primarily as a charismatic gift (in the marriage liturgies based on the Pauline teaching in 1 Cor 7) it is unreasonable to expect that all homosexual persons should possess a gift only given to some heterosexuals. Footnote

             For this reason, my focus is upon marriage which I define (for the purpose of this paper) as a union between two persons recognized by each of them as such, with or without the further recognition of the church or civil authority. William Eskridge, in his Case for Same-Sex Marriage, employs a narrower definition that includes social, civil, or religious recognition. (Eskridge 17) However, I begin by adopting the older understanding of marriage as subsisting fundamentally in the consent of the couple. In this sense, marriage existed long before either the civil or church law. Footnote The teaching that the ministers of marriage (whether in a sacramental sense or not) are the couple themselves is of venerable date, going back at least to the Roman civic concept that consent of the parties made marriage. Footnote Long after formal civil or ecclesiastical recognition was provided, many chose not to avail themselves of it; and even when church and civil authorities made their participation a norm or a formal requirement for valid marriage, “common law” arrangements continued to exist; many couples still enjoy civic and even religious benefits in spite of foregoing all formal, external validation of their unions. Footnote

             I am choosing, then, not to focus on the question of whether same-sex marriage exists or not — or should exist or not — it does and has under this broader definition in many cultures and places and times under different forms, as Eskridge has demonstrated — even under his more stringent definition (Eskridge 15-50). “For those who have eyes to see, it is evident that such relationships do exist.” (Weil 173) The question is whether the church should add its blessing to these already existing unions or covenants — in short, Should the church solemnize, celebrate or bless same-sex marriage?

Difficulties with marriage as a term

Not all approve of using the term (or the concept) marriage in this context. Objections fall into several categories.

1)         Some simply reject same-sex marriage as a category error, and argue that marriage is an intrinsically heterosexual institution. This is what Eskridge calls the “definitional objection.” (Eskridge 89) Some who take this position are simply heterosexist, Footnote and see “gay marriage” as blessing or condoning sin.

2)         At the same time, even some who are tolerant or affirmative of gay and lesbian relationships are reluctant to use the term marriage and suggest such euphemisms as union or covenant. Others suggest terms reflective of the institutions surrounding marriage, as “householding” (Countryman), reflecting the Spanish verb for undertaking marriage, casar. (Weil 172) In some cases this may be an effort to calm the fears of those who see same-sex marriage as an attack on different-sex marriage. The Metropolitan Community Church uses the term “Holy Union” because it “wishes to distinguish the church ceremony from the legal entity of marriage” in part to alert its members to the fact that the rite does not institute a civil marriage. (Williams 135)

3)         Some gay liberationists, at the other extreme, see marriage as an “insidious and basic sustainer” of an unjust and destructive social construct. (Eskridge 53) As Paula Ettlebrick puts it:

Marriage runs contrary to two of the primary goals of the lesbian and gay movement: the affirmation of gay identity and culture and the validation of many forms of relationships. (Eskridge 78)

4)         Finally, a religious sister has observed that marriage as a metaphor for religious dedication (particularly for women) led to distortion in the vocation as well as in the personal relationships of women religious. She concludes that “overlaying the assumptions and expectations of heterosexual marriage has not been helpful to religious and I’m not sure they are adequate in other avenues of human sexual expression.” (Knoor† 2)

A response to these arguments can be summarized here.

1)         Marriage is a far more elastic term than the current discussions suggest; Footnote it includes (with the church’s blessing) relationships that are neither (in the long run) monogamous nor lifelong; this study suggests it might also include (with the church’s blessing) relationships that are not heterosexual.

2)         The terms “union” and “covenant” represent aspects of marriage and can be subsumed within it. “Blessing a union” is precisely how marriage has long been described. Footnote As euphemisms they are unlikely to mollify those opposed to same-sex marriage on the grounds of opposition to homosexual sex; in the long run if it looks like marriage, people will think it is, regardless of what it is called, or what the church intends. Footnote
The distinction between civil and church understandings of marriage, while important, have been intertwined for so long (for different-sex couples) that there is little reason for the church to try to build a wall of separation only for same-sex couples. Indeed, recent movement toward the church relinquishing authority to formalize civil marriage has emerged in light of civil restrictions other than those involving sex (pension and social security benefit penalties, for example). To that extent, as all marriages come to be seen in terms of “householding” they highlight non-sexual aspects of marriage. It is helpful to remember that the bedroom is only one room in the house — and has more than one use. At the same time “householding” is a better term than “cohabitation” if only because free of negative connotations.
While it is important that same-sex couples realize that their “union” is not recognized by civil authority, and will not engender the myriad benefits (and responsibilities) currently afforded to (and required of) different-sex couples, such instruction is best imparted as a part of counseling; using union or covenant is not adequate warning — as both terms are used in many current different-sex rites.

3)         Shared patterns of behavior borne of oppression exist, but the desirability of such a “gay culture” provokes debates such as those surrounding Ebonics. The critique that marriage is a bad institution bears weight — the statistics on spouse abuse alone give pause Footnote — but as Eskridge argues, same-sex marriage may “civilize” its heterosexual counterpart by modeling relationships not built on domination or rigid roles — an inherent weakness in traditional marriage that affords an easy path for abusive relationships. As such, heterosexual marriage of one sort is an inadequate model for same-sex relationships; indeed, same-sex marriages that merely imitate structures of dominance and submission provide for the same sort of abuse. This is not, however, a question of culture, but of behavior.

4)         While it is probably true that marriage is a poor metaphor for religious dedication and profession, and may well have detrimental effects on the lives of women religious and their personal relationships, same-sex relationships are more like different-sex relationships than religious dedication is like marriage. If anything, that the church could deform the construct of marriage to accommodate something as unlike it as religious profession shows just how flexible the church can be when it chooses: virtually all of the canonical requirements for marriage are absent from religious profession. The surmised “consent” of God (as spouse), and the substitution of “mystical union” for procreation-ordered sexual intercourse [see the “Josephite” marriage issue] constitute no more radical a category shift than same-sex marriage. The fact that men, particularly in the Franciscan tradition, could be understood to be “Spouses of Christ” and “Mothers” to each other also witnesses to the capacity for symbolic adaptation among the flexible friars. Footnote

             This study is descriptive rather than pro- or prescriptive. The question is “should the church bless or celebrate the marriages of same-sex couples” not “should same-sex couples marry.” Given the statistics on divorce it is clear that not all different-sex couples should marry, at least with the frequency they do. Marriage is a vocation to which not all are called, and no one should be constrained from or obliged to marriage by either church or state. This study’s goal is to see how closely the traditional understanding of marriage — which theoretically limits all sexual activity to a single, life-long, monogamous, church-recognized, heterosexual marriage — is matched by the lived reality.

The Idealized Myth and the Pastoral Reality

The nature of myth

Myth is story that gives structure to a world. That structure defines what is and is not permitted in that world. Some radical theologians claim that we must be free of our myths; I do not think we can be. As quickly as we demythologize one aspect of the story a new myth will replace it. Perhaps the greatest myth is to believe onself free from myth.

             The true danger arises when the myth no longer adequately corresponds to the reality to which gives structure, or when the myth adequate for one culture is imposed upon another for which it is inappropriate. A wholesome myth requires constant de- and reconstruction if it is to meet changing needs. A young couple convert a room they use for a home office into a nursery, then a child’s bedroom, and when the child has grown and moved away, perhaps once again a work space; in the passage of time it may come to be furnished with a hospital bed, as a beloved spouse of over fifty years approaches his final departure towards an eternal dwelling.

             What happens when the myth resists adaptation? The couple do not have a child because the office is more important; a child killed in an accident is memorialized in a room left untouched, as painful as an undressed wound, and unavailable for other use; the elderly spouse dies in a clinic because the spare room is a store for discarded things he or she will never use again.

             The church’s mythological house has many rooms that are not available for the living because they are filled with the luggage of the ghosts of the dead. For this reason the underlying mythology that informs the church and gives it structure must always be examined and rebuilt, dividing walls torn out, ramps and access installed for those less well-abled to make their way, new wings and dormers added. The church should be like the restored Jerusalem, startled to find herself with many children when she thought she was barren (Isa 49.21). Otherwise the church will find itself a forsaken and unvisited museum instead of a vibrant center of hospitality and community. The church’s goal and commission is not to tear down except in order to build up. (2 Cor 10.8)

The substance of the myth at hand

The “marriage myth” is summed up in the statement that only lifelong, heterosexual, monogamous marriage may receive the church’s blessing, and only within such marriage is sexual activity free from sin. John Stott sums up the myth in this way:

...Scripture defines marriage in terms of heterosexual monogamy. It is the union of one man with one woman, which must be publicly acknowledged (the leaving of parents), permanently sealed (he will “cleave to his wife”) and physically consummated (“one flesh”). And Scripture envisages no other kind of marriage or sexual intercourse, for God provided no alternative... Every sexual relationship or act which deviates from God’s revealed intention is ipso facto displeasing to him and under his judgment. This includes polygamy and polyandry (which infringe the “one man-one woman” principle), clandestine unions (since these involve no public leaving of parents), casual encounters and temporary liaisons, adultery and many divorces (which are incompatible with “cleaving” and with Jesus’ prohibition “let man not separate”), and homosexual partnerships (which violate the statement that “a man” shall be joined to “his wife.” (Stott 16-17)

Stott’s description deserves the title “myth” because he bases it entirely (except for his reference to Christ’s prohibition of divorce) on his reading of two verses from the second creation myth in Genesis 2.23-24. Footnote The myth as Stott presents it is, however, far from consistent with Jewish and Christian practice both in permissiveness and restrictiveness. There is almost no article of this creed Footnote that has not, at one time or another, been given a different — or even contrary — reading. The marriage myth is no more a constant representation of the church’s teaching than the sole remaining law of Orwell’s Animal Farm — “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others” — is of its initial charter. Footnote

             Nor has the behavior of real people often been “continuous” with an idealized portrayal of marriage. The pastoral reality presents us with an expressionist canvas full of contrasts and edges, and the statistical norm stands in stark contrast with the surmised ethical norm. I do not propose that the ethical norm should be changed simply because few follow it; rather, I note that a norm applied as a double standard is not a norm. If “all have fallen short” yet only certain groups are punished, excluded, blamed, or chastised, or penalized, then the church has missed the message of Romans 1-2.

             Statistics collected in Continuing the Dialogue indicate the gap between the ethical norm and actual behavior for heterosexuals: Over half of all teenagers have had sex before leaving high school (56); the vast majority of people, even those who consider themselves “very religious,” do not come to marriage as virgins (59); nearly a third of all married Americans have had an extramarital affair (60) Footnote ; and finally, turning to a truly tragic statistic, nearly a third of all youth suicides are gay (57). Moreover, “police reports show that approximately half of those arrested for homosexual activity in public places are married men.” (John 21) Footnote The marriage “myth” is hardly statistically normal, even while there is a desire to make it ethically normative. It is a house in which very few people appear actually to find a place to dwell.

The nature of law and the law of nature

Since nature exists before culture, before examining the legal and customary discontinuities with the marriage myth, a few words are in order concerning nature, the nature of law, and natural law more specifically. This is necessary because much of the theological and ethical debate on homosexuality takes a natural law approach.

Arguments from nature: For and against

At least since the twelfth century, “nature as a cosmological principle” (Brundage 324) has been invoked by philosophers, and long prior to that arguments from nature were used either for or against many activities. Arguments from nature are notoriously difficult to maintain, though that has not stopped the church from employing them. One of the primary arguments against homosexuality for many years was that it was “unnatural” or “contrary to nature,” Footnote though as science has built up the evidence not only for its natural basis, Footnote but also for its existence among other species (including the bonobo chimpanzee and the dolphin, among whom homosexual behavior is a positive factor in the welfare and balance of the animal society) Footnote there has been a tendency to reverse the rhetoric. The Minority Report to the 1997 Standing Liturgical Commission study, for example, now chooses to praise virtue as “unnatural.” (§4.3-7)

             It is, however, faulty to build on the shifting ground of such concepts, given our limited understanding of nature. An example relevant to this study is the faulty understanding of procreation in the Hellenistic world and early church.

Clement and the school of nature

Clement of Alexandria, for example, betrays an inconsistent attitude toward the natural order. In his search for a basis to formulate decisions concerning human behavior, nature is by turns commended or condemned depending upon the goal of his argument. Moreover, the descriptions of natural phenomena in his argumentation, both for and against certain actions or behaviors, are often inaccurate. These observations are based on the medical and biological knowledge of his day, which was significantly mistaken in much of its understanding of human sexuality, reproduction, and animal behavior.

             Clement’s use of the animal kingdom is highly inconsistent. He holds up the “natural” monogamy of pigeons and turtledoves as a paradigm to shame unfaithful human spouses, while he portrays the equally “natural” lewdness of hares and hyenas as a warning against pederasty — hares and hyenas being “lewd” in part because of the Mosaic dietary prohibitions. (Strom. II.23.139; Paedog. II.10.) Clement is not arguing from nature but imposing a predetermined moral view upon it, in what might be described as a poor proof-texting from nature’s book. Serious wrestling with his examples leads to the conclusion that the presence or absence of a given behavior in animals is irrelevant to moral discourse concerning human beings. “We do not regulate our behavior or derive our moral precepts simply from observation of what nature does or does not do.” (John 11)

             How much more absurd when the observations are erroneous, as with the views on sex and reproduction current in Clement’s day (and, as the long life of the homunculus myth attests, for a considerable time thereafter). Few scientific theories have had more lasting or damaging effect upon moral teaching than the mistaken notion that the male “seed” is the creative element in procreation, the woman being merely the passive “field” in which it grows. Clement and others Footnote use this understanding of reproduction to prohibit “fruitless sowings” or “planting in a field not one’s own” — including homosexual relations, intercourse during infertile periods (menses Footnote and pregnancy), and adultery. The deposition of the fruitful seed in a place where, or at a time when, it cannot fulfill its “nature” is not permitted. (Paedog. II.10.90; Strom. II.23.143.) Seed exists to grow, and sex exists solely to provide a way to sow the seed. Any sexual activity that does not lead to procreation is ruled out — on mistaken grounds.

             The two themes (animal examples and sex for procreation alone) are linked in Clement’s arguments against sex during pregnancy. He notes that animals “naturally” cease copulation after conception, and argues that if irrational beasts can do what is right, how much more ought rational humans. (Strom. II.23.143.) On the contrary, current research into sexual behavior suggests that the human capacity to have sex during infertile periods (including pregnancy) is significant in the development and maintenance of monogamous bonding. Footnote

Tradition: Contrary to natural law

Natural law of a more sophisticated sort says that actions have appropriate ends, or goals. The natural law argument, articulated by Aquinas, is that the primary end of marriage — procreation — derives from humankind’s animal nature; the secondary end — the shared life of the couple — from the human nature; and the third end — sacrament — from the nature of the couple as believers. The problem with this argument lies in its “claim that the primary end of specifically human marriage is dictated by a man’s generically animal nature.” (Lawler 61) It is hard to see why a rich human relationship or a life of faith should be subordinated to a biological function. Another problem with the ends-oriented approach of natural law lies in the serious ethical difficulties which arise when this approach is applied to people — this ethical flaw has been recognized at least since Kant: it is inappropriate to treat a person as a means to an end, however lofty that end might be. This will be addressed in more detail (see page 41) in an analysis of marriage as covenant which finds its end only in the beloved.

             Another common (and less problematic) sort of natural law falls into the area of “right reason” — this is the Nature to which Hooker turns. Neither of these forms of natural law, however, are native to Jewish tradition, nor are they the primary basis of English law.

             Scripture bears little witness to natural law in either sense. In the New Testament the sole instance of a natural law approach is in Paul’s Letter to the Romans. In this (but in little else) I follow Richard Hays’ critique of John Boswell’s broad attempt to defuse the Pauline references about “that which is against nature.” Footnote Paul is in all likelihood at this point using what would come to be called a “natural law” approach; but he is using a language foreign to Jewish idiom to make a point concerning the universality of God’s judgment on all of humanity. He begins (Rom 1) by using a Stoic argument to critique Gentiles from a Gentile perspective, just as he will quickly (Rom 2) turn to the Law of Moses to critique Jews from a Jewish perspective. Paul’s message is that everyone has sinned, within or without the Law (of Moses), Greek and Jew alike have fallen short.

             Nature appears in a similar quasi-Stoic context in Wisdom of Solomon 13-14, which Paul echoes in his tirade against idolatry. Wisdom begins by claiming that Gentiles are “foolish by nature and ... unable from the good things that are seen to know the one who exists...” (Wis 13.1 cp. Rom 1.19-23) Wisdom then makes an effort to excuse but then finally blames the idolaters for their ignorance (Wis 13.6-9). Paul follows a similar rhetorical structure by first bashing the Gentiles and then unexpectedly turning his rhetoric against his Jewish audience (Rom 1.19-23, 2.1-2). One can well imagine the cheers Paul has whipped up — through his stock tirade against idolatry — sticking in the throats of his audience as the rhetorical two-edged sword comes crashing down.

             It is significant that the only uses of “nature” (fusis) in LXX appear in late, apocryphal, or even non-canonical books. It is never used to translate a Hebrew word; indeed, there is no Hebrew word for the concept, either as a universal (Platonic) or a particular quality (Aristotelian). (TDNT 266) In Jewish theology, things exist by divine ordinance, not by participation in universal forms, nor by virtue of detachable or innate qualities. It would take the influence of Hellenism to bring these ways of thinking into Judaism.

             The usage of “nature” in 4 Maccabees 5 reveals the Jewish recognition of the equivocal quality of natural law, and demonstrates distrust of natural law arguments. Antiochus presents the aged Eleazar with swine’s flesh and argues:

When nature has granted it to us, why should you abhor eating the very excellent meat of this animal? It is senseless not to enjoy delicious things that are not shameful, and wrong to spurn the gifts of nature. (vv 8-9)

The old Eleazar responds

We... who have been persuaded to govern our lives by the divine law, think that there is no more powerful compulsion than our obedience to the law... [The divine law] instructs us in justice, so that in all our dealings we act impartially, and it teaches us piety, so that with proper reverence we worship the only living God. Therefore we do not eat defiling food; for since we believe that the law was established by God, we know that in the nature of things the Creator of the world in giving us the law has shown sympathy toward us. He has permitted us to eat what will be most suitable for our lives, but he has forbidden us to eat meats that would be contrary to this. (vv 16,24-26)

In short, the obedience to the Law is superior to all else that is evident from nature, and offers protection from what would prove harmful to those who might otherwise do “what comes naturally.”

             Balancing this view, and moving more in the direction Boswell (1980:110) proposed for Romans (i.e., that the “nature” against which the idolaters go is their personal or proper nature) is the usage found in 4 Maccabees 13-16 which links fusis / fusin to parenthood or family ties. There, a parent’s love for a child is “natural” to being a parent; it is a personal attribute. This usage is consistent with Boswell’s contention that “nature” in this period is the “nature of” rather than nature in a universal sense. While it supports his argument that Romans is aimed at heterosexual persons acting contrary to their nature, the parallels with Wisdom suggest that Paul (in Romans, like the Wisdom author) is referring to a broader Stoic concept of nature. Footnote

             As noted, natural law is not a native Jewish concept, and there is no Biblical Hebrew word for what we would now mean by “nature.” There is no “natural” moral law; everything is according to God’s will as revealed in positive law. Even the natural world comes into being and functions as a result of God’s express command, “Let there be...” Without God’s command the sun would not shine, and the animals would not be fruitful and multiply.

             Post-biblical Jewish thinkers continued this general trend against Hellenistic natural-law concepts. The principle was articulated with regard to ethics by Maimonides (The Eight Chapters, VI): there is no natural or “rational” moral law, though there may be generally accepted principles (cultural constructs). All so-called law is given, whether by God or human authority, and hence is positive. Footnote It might be argued, on the basis of Rom 1.20, that Paul regarded the prohibition on idolatry as an exception, since nature teaches that there is a creator-God behind the visible world. However, knowing God as Creator (through nature) does not necessarily render illicit the worship of lesser gods. That prohibition was established in the positive law given at Sinai. The Rabbis held that the prohibition on idols (not lesser gods but material objects “that are no gods”) was also not natural, but to have been among those laws given to Noah (and hence binding on all of humanity), an event recorded in the Oral rather than the Written Torah. (Mekilta on Exod 19.2, Sifre Deut 40, Sanhedrin 56a) Footnote The Rabbis are firm that there can be no crime unless a prohibition has been given in advance, i.e., a positive law: “The Lord does not punish unless he has previously declared such-and-such an action to be an offense.” (Sanhedrin 56b) Footnote

             English law reflects a similar attitude. Though classical Anglicans such as Hooker respect and use natural law (understood along the lines of “right reason”), they do not give it the formal authority it finds in Roman Catholic thought. Footnote As Sedgwick states it:

Anglican churches reflect the English tradition of common law. In this tradition the rule of law is not, as in Roman law, a matter of principles that are understood to be based on the nature of things and are applied to individual cases. Instead, law arises from individual cases themselves and as such represent the accumulation of a people’s practical wisdom. New cases are addressed in the light of past cases. (Sedgwick 39)

This is remarkably similar to the Talmudic and Rabbinic legal method of halakah — a word whose root describes a living law in which one “walks” — a law in some ways more “natural” than what commonly goes by that name.

A note on taboo / towʿevah

When law is divorced from (or not yet married to) reason it is a taboo: a given act is wrong simply because it is declared or believed to be wrong, and usually not because of the act, but the actor. Taboo is not necessarily the same thing as sin; that is, it may lack any moral overtone, even though it bear a harsh penalty. While lacking a moral dimension, a religious dimension may well be present; that is, the forbidden object or activity may be particularly holy, or may render the violator unfit for participation in the cult. It is through this religious avenue that “sin” comes to be attached to what might otherwise be considered a morally neutral, though serious, act.

             A typical distinction has long been made in Anglican teaching between the “Law given from God by Moses, as touching Ceremonies and Rites” and the “Commandments which are called Moral.” (Article VII) Obedience is due the latter, while the former is binding on no Christian. This is a distinction which orthodox Judaism would find it difficult to make, though Reform and other modern Jewish movements do so. Footnote The question at hand is, Why should any Christian feel compelled to follow a Jewish law that is only observed by some Jews?

             Anglicans in particular have, in Article VII, a useful guide to distinguishing what laws are binding on Christians. “Moral Commandments” are understood as coterminous with the Decalogue. Richard Hooker clarified the distinction precisely in the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity:

The positive laws which Moses gave... he plainly distinguished afterward from the laws of the Two Tables which were moral... Of the Ten Commandments, it followeth immediately, "These words the Lord spake unto all your multitude in the mount..." (Deut 5.22) But concerning other laws, the people give their consent to receive them at the hands of Moses (Deut 5.27)... From this latter kind the former are distinguished in many things. They were not both at one time delivered, neither both of one sort, nor to one end. The former uttered by the voice of God..., written with the finger of God,... termed by the name of Covenant,... given to be kept without either mention of time how long, or place where. On the other side, the latter given after, and neither given by God himself, nor given unto the whole multitude immediately from God, but unto Moses...; the latter termed Ceremonies, Judgments, Ordinances, but no where Covenants; finally, the observation of the latter restrained unto the land where God would establish them to inhabit. (III.XI.6)

In spite of the clarity of this position, it is not uncommon to find Leviticus 18.22, and 20.13 advanced against same-sex marriage, though it is clear from the context that these passages meet Hooker’s criteria for “statutes and ordinances” as opposed to moral laws. They are given to Moses, not the people (18.1,2) and apply to the land of Israel (18.3). At the same time, it must be confessed that some of these matters still appear weighty: the sacrifice of children, for example (Lev 18.21). Yet others seem relatively trivial (the prohibition on sex during menstruation, Lev 18.19, about which more will be said on page 22). Since Christians, unlike Jews, Footnote are not bound by these statutes and ordinances, how are we to distinguish those that are truly relevant for Christians today?

             The mere fact of their inclusion in Scripture is insufficient, since within this passage there are matters many if not most Christians consider trivial. Moreover, Scripture itself is inconsistent: the prohibition against marrying sisters (Lev 18.18) was violated by the patriarch Jacob, and metaphorically by God in Ezekiel 23.

             Undue weight is sometimes given to the word “abomination” which appears several times in Leviticus and elsewhere. This translates hb[wt (towʿebah): the primary meaning of which denotes ritual impurity, a species of taboo. All of the various actions described in Leviticus 18 are summed up at the end of the chapter under the general heading of “abominations” (26-30). Elsewhere in the Hebrew Scripture, “abominations” include the eating of non-kosher foods (Dt 14.3), offering a less-than-perfect sacrifice (Dt 17.1), using dishonest weights (Dt 25.15-16, Pro 20.23), the wearing of clothing "proper" to the opposite sex (Dt 22.5), and the divorce and subsequent remarriage of a woman who has married another in the interim (Dt 24.1-4). Ezekiel adds adultery and lending money at interest (18:10-13) and intercourse during menses (22:10-11). Footnote

             None of this is to suggest that these actions are anything less than very serious crimes under the Law Footnote — to this day the fact that male homosexuality is described as towʿebah renders same-sex marriage an impossibility for some Jews and a difficulty for others — but Christians, specifically in this case Anglicans, do distinguish between ritual and moral law, so some other grounds for this distinction must be sought.

             The fact that the death penalty is attached to some of the prohibited acts (including male homosexual sex) Footnote is not a sufficient indicator of how grave a Christian should consider them. Death is precisely the punishment meted out in the case of clearly cultic violations. The most obvious, of course, is idolatry. But gathering sticks on the Sabbath (Num 15:32-36), the improper eating of dedicated food (Num 18:32), wrongful exercise of priesthood (Num 3:10), and trespass of the sacred precincts by a non-Levite (Num 1:51) are all punishable by death. These are all purely cultic violations, for in the absence of the cult there would be no crime: one of the determining factors in taboo.

             The only rational solution is to apply some ethical standard for determining the relevance of such prohibitions for the Christian church. Taboo and ethics occupy different philosophical realms. To date no convincing ethical argument has been raised against same-sex marriage — the “natural law” arguments inevitably run up against their own circular reasoning. Footnote Clearly much of the weight of opposition to homosexual acts in general and same-sex marriage in particular goes back to a taboo mentality: it is wrong because it is wrong. Footnote

             Another marker of taboo is the fact that mere questioning of the tradition, quite apart from its violation, produces concern and anxiety in the culture that holds it. The recent furor in the Episcopal Church reflects precisely this phenomenon. It is not the fact of homosexual clergy or the existence of stable relationships between committed same-sex couples that is causing the church such emotional turmoil; nor is mere awareness of this fact the problem. Only the invincibly or deliberately ignorant could be unaware that the Episcopal Church has its share of sexually active gay clergy and couples, and probably always has. (Thomas 179, John 20f) It is, rather acknowledgment of the fact perceived as a challenge to the taboo that has brought us to the current state of affairs.

             What I hope to demonstrate in the remainder of this section of my study is that the discontinuities with the “taboo ideal” — for it is as such that the mythic “lifelong, heterosexual, monogamous marriage” is functioning — are so many and so various that same-sex marriage should be less of an engine of dismay than it has become for so many. While the love that dare not speak its name has of late been shouting from the roof tops, it has not broken a decorous silence, but merely added another voice to the ongoing chorus of witnesses to the rich diversity of the wounded Body of Christ.

A survey of the discontinuities in the tradition

In this section I will catalogue a few of the many departures from the “ideal myth” that run through Jewish and Christian history. Many well-educated Episcopal clergy and laity are aware of most if not all of these historical and legal details; but many appear to be inclined to forget them, perhaps in the heat of emotion or debate — and this leads them to fall back on repetitions of the driving myth as if it were a reality instead of an idealization: usually phrased as “the biblical teaching that only lifelong, heterosexual, monogamous marriage” is an appropriate venue for sexual conduct, and, moreover, that this is God’s intention for humanity. Various nuances are given to this statement: substituting “New Testament” for “biblical” (CTD 93), or finessing “lifelong” by adding “by intention” — but the myth (or taboo), with divine mandate in place, remains. What follows is meant to serve both as a reminder of the discontinuities, and an appeal to consider that same-sex marriage is no more discontinuous, and in some ways less so, than many of these acts and customs.

Procreativity

A key feature of the myth is that “sex is for progeny.” We have already noted that in the biological realm sex serves numerous functions apart from producing offspring. There is a double discontinuity at work here: Procreation has served as an “end of marriage,” but at some points in the tradition, (particularly in Judaism) procreation was so highly valued that divorce, prostitution, polygamy and even incest (by affinity if not consanguinity) were permitted or even mandated. On the other hand, in spite of the emphasis on procreation as a primary end of marriage, in the Jewish and Christian tradition infertility has not generally been an impediment to marriage, while impotence often has. Footnote Neither is infertility considered grounds for Christian divorce or annulment (Brundage 164, 201) except, in current Roman Catholic Canon Law, when deliberately concealed (Canon 1084 §3). This marks a significant pair of discontinuities with a common aspect of the myth of marriage.

The Law of Moses and the rabbis

The creation stories in Genesis have been appealed to by Stott and others as the locus classicus against homosexuality — much as Jesus took them to be the locus classicus against divorce. However, the creation accounts are, particularly when taken together in Rabbinic tradition, open to quite broad interpretations.

Adam, his wives, and his pets

Because of the desire to reconcile the two accounts into one continuous narrative, the eighth century Alphabet of Ben Sira posited that Adam had two wives: the first creation account describes Adam’s first wife, Lilith, who rebelled against Adam and claimed equality with him. (Graves 65; EJ 11:246; Boyarin 95) The authors of one sexuality study note that the second creation account emphasizes “common humanity as well as the differences of male and female.” (HSCF 44) One stream of Jewish tradition would agree, for when God created the animals in a first effort to find a suitable companion for him (Gen 2.18-20), Adam “tried coupling with each female in turn, [but] found no satisfaction in the act.” Only then did God make Eve from Adam’s rib. (Graves 65, Yebamoth 63a) Thus the Adam of at least part of the tradition engaged in bigamy and bestiality, the latter apparently with God’s permission, prior to the creation of a suitable helpmate. More importantly, God allowed Adam to experience in order to find a mate suitable for himself, and was willing to accept Adam’s judgment as to what suited him.

The impulse to procreation

Another principle the Rabbis derive from the creation accounts — one that forms a key element in Orthodox Judaism — is that the First Commandment (of 613) is, “be fruitful and multiply.” Taken in conjunction with the judgment that “it is not good that the man should be alone” the result is that “celibacy is contrary to nature,” as Rabbi Hertz bluntly puts it. Jewish tradition avers that celibate life is without blessing: “He who has no wife abides without good, help, joy, blessing, or atonement.” (Hertz 9, 931) Celibacy is not an option. A man who fails to produce offspring in marriage “is as if he shed blood, diminished the Image of God, and made the Shekinah to depart from Israel” and “he will have to account for his actions in the world to come.” (EJ 11:1028) Footnote

Monogamy and polygamy

While a monogamous ideal has been read into the early biblical texts, “in biblical times polygamy was common among the upper classes.” (EJ 11:1026) There is clearly no biblical prohibition, though polygamy “all but disappeared in Israel after the Babylonian Exile” (Hertz 932) and by the Common Era, “while theoretically still possible, was discouraged, and was almost unknown among the Talmudic rabbis.” (EJ 11:1028) It was eventually prohibited in the medieval period, in a ban attributed to R. Gershom b. Judah. (EJ 11:1031) This adaptation towards the monogamous ideal arose primarily out of practical (and in this case permissible) accommodation to the surrounding Gentile culture, not religious motivations. Contrary to Stott’s contention that monogamy is the only form of marriage envisioned by scripture, polygamy was recognized as “marriage” under Jewish law. If this were not the case, then most of the patriarchs would have been law-breakers.

Other discontinuities

The Jewish marriage laws indicate other striking discontinuities with the marriage myth: the laws governing adultery (a man could only violate another man’s marriage, a woman only her own; that is, a man could consort with a prostitute without committing adultery) and divorce (again with a double standard favoring the husband) are well enough known not to require elaboration here. Contrary to the prevailing myth, Jesus’ judgments against divorce are not so novel as they are sometimes held to be; the prophetic material indicates a counsel against, if not an outright prohibition of, divorce (e.g., Mal 2.15-16). Less well known is the prohibition on a man taking his wife back after she has had an affair — he may forgive her, but he must divorce her; and she is not free to marry her lover, even after her husband’s death. (EJ 11:1052)

             However, the most striking discontinuity with the marriage myth is the Levirate Law, by which a man must marry his brother’s widow if the brother dies without issue. (Dt 25.5-6) In this situation, marriage (kiddushin) was held to come about immediately ipso facto and was binding unless the woman was released to marry another through the chalitzah ceremony. The principle continues to exist in modern Jewish law, though eventually, in part because of R. Gershom’s prohibition of polygamy among the Ashkenazim, chalitzah came to have priority over Levirate marriage. (EJ 11:120-128)

The law of Christ and Paul

I have noted Jesus’ teaching on divorce as an intensification of a trend already present in late prophetic tradition. The most startling thing about Jesus’ teaching is the absoluteness with which it is expressed (CTD 46), including making remarriage after divorce the equivalent of adultery (a capital crime). Our culture’s casual acceptance of divorce, and remarriage after divorce, leads us to overlook the significance of this prohibition. The Matthean exception is the only loophole in the Gospel: “But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” (Mat 5.32) The latter was already forbidden to the priestly class (Lev 21.7) and Jesus here reflects a Pharisaic Footnote tendency (as elsewhere in Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount) to extend the Law and interpret it with greater strictness though on a moral rather than taboo basis (if the Matthean exception is authentic, an assumption that has been challenged for some time.)

             Paul (1 Co 7.10-16) continues the divorce prohibition as “from the Lord,” but introduces the “Pauline privilege” allowing a person with a pagan spouse to separate, though even this is not recommended but merely permitted. This provision, as the following verse makes clear, concerns the maintenance of the status quo. There is no question of a Christian man or woman marrying a pagan: if one is to marry, it must be “in the Lord.” (1 Co 7.39) Footnote

Celibacy

The most striking feature of New Testament teaching is the preferential emphasis on celibacy. Again, this is well enough known not to require elaboration, but the comments above on the Rabbinic view of celibacy should serve to indicate to what extent this teaching was novel or unusual (though perhaps shared with some of the contemporary sectarian Jewish movements.) It should also be clarified that the most positive thing Paul says about marriage is that it “is not sin” (1 Co 7.28,36). The “great mystery” of Ephesians 5.32 is the church, not marriage, although this fact is obscured in most translations. Footnote

             A less well known feature of Jesus’ teaching on marriage is his grounding of marriage firmly in this world, and not in the next. It is striking but not surprising that many if not all of the essays on the “Biblical doctrine of marriage” emanating from conservative apologists entirely fail to mention this teaching. Even the relatively balanced Pastoral Study Document fails to include the relevant passages in its section on the “Witness of Scripture” (CTD 40ff); even more surprisingly, Christopher Webber’s excellent reevaluation of the institution of marriage also fails to cite this text. Given the fact that Jesus said very little about marriage, it is odd to omit a principle aspect of his teaching in works ostensibly presenting his views. Footnote

             While it would be an exaggeration to call marriage “an impediment to entering the kingdom of heaven,” (CTD 47) it is clear from Jesus’ teaching that marriage is not of the world to come, but of this world. This is expressed most strongly in the Lucan version of the dialogue with the Sadducees Footnote concerning marriage and resurrection; unlike the parallels (Mt 22.30, Mk 12.25) it contrasts the earthly and the resurrection life: “Jesus said to them, ‘Those who belong to this age (lit. the sons of this age) marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.’” (Lk 20.34-35) The “earthliness” of marriage is echoed in an earlier Lucan passage that relates to the end times, describing the days of Noah (Lk 17.26 ∥ Mt 24.37) — marriage is, in short, “business as usual” in the kingdom of this world. The only marriage in the life of the world to come is that of the Lamb and his Bride, the church (Rev 19.7).

             Finally, in Revelation (14.4) we find the most striking encomium for celibacy: the vision of the 144,000 who “have not defiled themselves with women.” While some suggest that this betrays an Encratite teaching (Cross 873), it is in keeping with Jesus’ description of those who have “made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 19.12) — if this is taken figuratively; that is, referring not to persons who have castrated themselves but to those who choose to remain celibate.

Wholesome examples (?)

Finally, note the restriction placed on marriage of bishops, presbyters, deacons and widows in the pastoral epistles (1Ti 3.2, Tit 1.5-6, 1Ti 3.12, 5.9). In all cases they are to be “married only once.” This may be the only explicit reference to monogamy in the New Testament; Footnote more likely it indicates a restriction on marriage after widowhood that would in the post-apostolic era be extended to the laity (though enforced with laxity, in light of Paul’s concession to widows, 1 Co 7.39-40). Second marriage, even after widowhood, remained a strict impediment to ordination in the early church. Footnote

The time of great strictness: what the Penitentials tell us

The middle ages saw a growth in restrictions on marriage, and some rather strict penances imposed on sexual behavior that has come to be considered harmless. From the late sixth to early eleventh centuries the main departure from the “marriage myth” is from the idea that “anything goes” within marriage. James Brundage’s magisterial study gives an exhaustive history of this period, from which one illustration follows. The documentary evidence stems from the detailed penitentials prepared for the guidance of confessors. Brundage presents a medieval husband’s “sexual decision-making process” as an amusing chart (Brundage 162), adapted and presented here as a checklist. The basic principle is that you must be able to answer “Yes” to each and all of the questions in the Yes column, and “No” to all the others in order to engage in sin-free sexual relations, and even then there are provisos, listed at the end:

YES

NO

Are you married?

Is your wife menstruating?

Is it Whitsun week?

Is it Wednesday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday?

Is this your wife?

Is she pregnant?

Is it Easter week?

Is it daylight?

Have you been married more than three days?

Is she nursing a child?

Is it a feast day?

Are you naked?

Do you want a child?

Is it Advent or Lent?

Is it a fast day?

Are you in church?

If you can answer Yes to all of the questions listed above under YES, and can answer No to all those under NO, you may have sex; HOWEVER: no fondling, lewd kisses, oral sex, or strange positions are allowed; you may do it only once (and try not to enjoy it...) and wash afterwards.


Clearly marriage did not mean “anything goes” as far as the church was concerned. How much or little the church’s teaching affected people’s bedroom behavior is unknown: the existence of the penitentials implies at least suspicion. It is difficult to imagine a man and wife remembering all these rules in the heat of passion — and it is hardly likely they followed handy charts in a less than fully literate society. Even today, with the wealth of information concerning aids, many remain ignorant, and others continue to risk infection rather than take the relatively easy precautions available. It is hardly likely that medieval lovers were any better informed or more fastidious.

Menstruation

The prohibition on sex during menstruation goes back to Leviticus 18.19 (only a few verses away from the Levitical proscription on male homosexual acts). It was a serious matter for earlier cultures, Jewish and Christian. Greenberg rightly notes, in his critique of Boswell,

That intercourse with a menstruating woman is also classified as an abomination along with homosexuality is an indication not, as Boswell suggests, that the latter offense was considered trivial, but rather that the former was considered extremely grave. However silly they may seem to contemporary rationalists, menstrual taboos are taken very seriously in many primitive societies. Late biblical Palestine was one of them. (196)

             Ezekiel classifies sex during menstruation with idolatry and adultery (Ezek 18.10-13, 22.10-11); he does not include homosexual acts in his list. Leviticus 20.18 indicates that the punishment for sex during menstruation was karet: being “cut off.” Karet could mean exile, though some authorities interpreted it to imply the death penalty; others felt that it meant a punishment only Heaven would impose, whether in shortening one’s life or in dying childless. More seriously, some held karet to imply a “cutting off of the soul in the future life, in the hereafter,” the consequence of a crime for which “unlike all others, death does not serve as an expiation...; hence, the culprit has no share in the world to come” unless some physical punishment is added. (Goldin 40-41)

             Brundage catalogs the church’s early prohibition on sex during menstruation. Christian writers offered various explanations for this in addition to the biblical injunction, chief of which was the idea that a child conceived during this period would be hideously deformed. (Brundage 156) Aquinas condemned it as a mortal sin on this ground (On the Sentences 4.32.1.2.2). Of course, as we know, it is unlikely that a child could be conceived as a result of sex during menstruation. Indeed, this led to a turnabout in policy on the part of the Roman Catholic Church: recognition of a “licit” method of birth control approved by Pius XI in 1930 (Casti Connubi), by Pius XII in 1951 (Allocution to Midwives) and Paul VI in 1968 (Humanae Vitae), where specific reference is made to “natural rhythms immanent in the generative functions” and “legitimate use of a natural disposition.” This discontinuity with tradition is all the more striking because of the Roman Catholic reliance on the continuity of teaching.

Masturbation

Masturbation was seen as a grave and serious sin throughout the early and medieval period (some, including Brundage 60, suggest that malakoi in 1 Cor 6.10 refers to masturbation), though the penitentials regarded it fairly lightly (if 3 years on bread and water can be considered light — this is the heaviest penalty imposed on masturbation in the penitentials reviewed by Brundage 600; most levied penance on the order of 30 or 40 days). In the period of the medieval reforms, Peter Damian, alone of all the canonists, regarded masturbation as a species of sodomy worthy of all the punishments attendant to that class of sin, on the grounds that it was “against nature.” (Brundage 213) Generally, while still regarded as a serious matter, masturbation was dealt with via the confessional rather than the court. (Brundage 400) Masturbation is still (1975) regarded as “an intrinsically and seriously disordered act” by the official teaching authority of the Roman Catholic Church (the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith), which applies the same terminology to homosexuality. (De Persona Humana 8-9)

             It is therefore all the more striking that masturbation should become a subject for jocularity when the General Convention, meeting in Phoenix, Arizona in 1991, was debating a canonical resolution that would have made “genital sexual activity outside of marriage” grounds for deposition from or an impediment to ordination. The debate in the House of Deputies was becoming intense when someone asked, on the basis of the wording of the resolution — and judging from his tone of voice, in all seriousness — “What about masturbation?” After a few seconds of hushed silence, an unidentified speaker was heard to say, “That matter will be left in the hands of the individual.” The hilarity attendant lasted for several minutes, until Dean Collins was able to restore order. Sadly, the comment did not make it into the Journal of the General Convention.

             While amusing, this incident illustrates one significant discontinuity in the Episcopal Church with the traditional teaching on sexuality. I will now turn to examine four other areas of discontinuity in the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion.

Discontinuities in Anglican/Episcopal teaching and policy

All of these departures from the “marriage myth” were made under the pressure of pastoral concern and the desire to minister effectively. The Episcopal Church has done this while at the same time trying to uphold the myth: and it is this tension that has introduced the awareness of “discontinuity” and the dangerous possibility of hypocrisy.

Mixed marriage

The most striking, but hardly well-known, departure from the church’s traditional teaching on marriage made by the Episcopal Church was the amendment to the marriage canons in 1946, whereby marriage in which only one of the parties was baptized became permissible. In examining the Journal for that year, it appears that this “indefensible anomaly” (Ervin 60n) slipped through with almost no debate; of greater concern was the inclusion within the canon a full list of impediments and grounds for annulment — contrary to the recommendation of the Joint Commission on Holy Matrimony, who preferred to leave the decision up to the local Bishop and a Court. (J 1946:442f) Footnote

             As already noted, mixed marriage is contrary to Scripture, Footnote and, interestingly enough, Tertullian borrowed the Scriptural phrase from the Sodom story — “strange flesh” (Jude 7) — to oppose marriage of a Christian with one unbaptized (To His Wife 2.2). Those who objected to the change in 1946 did so on the grounds that it is “implicit in the nature of Holy Matrimony that it be solemnized only for baptized Christians.” (WD I:414) This is clearly the position of the Eastern Orthodox who regard marriage with an unbaptized person to be incapable of liturgical celebration in a eucharistic context. (Meyendorff 29f) The Roman Catholic Church holds such unions to be invalid, though a process of dispensation is provided by which the parties can be married. However, the idea of “Christian marriage” seems strained when one of the partners (who are understood to be “the ministers of the sacrament”) is not a Christian.

             This discontinuity is exacerbated by recent canonical and liturgical developments: the current (1994) Episcopal canons define Holy Matrimony as “a spiritual union... entered into within the community of faith” (Canon I.18.2.b, italics mine), and the 1979 Book of Common Prayer seems to expect (though it does not require) a celebration of the Eucharist, which would be meaningless if one member of the couple could not receive. This is clearly a case where the church’s pastoral flexibility has been exercised perhaps without full attention to all of the implications.

Contraception

Another area in which the Anglican Communion has departed significantly from the tradition is in the allowance of contraception. Although two Lambeth Conferences (1908 and 1920) and the Episcopal House of Bishops (1925) passed resolutions condemning contraception in no uncertain terms (Smith 185) the meeting of the Lambeth Conference in 1958 saw an abrupt turnabout. Building on resolutions of Lambeth 1930 that began to express concern about overpopulation and world poverty, it assigned parents the “responsibility for deciding the number and frequency of children.” (Resolution 115) The 1968 Lambeth Conference responded specifically to Humanae Vitae, stating its inability to agree with the pope “that all methods of conception control other than abstinence from sexual intercourse or its confinement to the periods of infecundity are contrary to the ‘order established by God.’” (Resolution 22) Footnote The church that has introduced a separation between the posited “natural end” of sex (procreation) and the sexual act should find it easier to reevaluate its teachings on marriage than the Episcopal Church is now finding it.

Polygamy

Another pastoral departure from the tradition came with Resolution 26 of the 1988 Lambeth Conference, which amended standing policy to allow a newly baptized man with several wives to retain all of them, though he was restrained from taking more. This was a departure not only from Christian tradition, but also from previous Lambeth decisions, though groundwork for study and change had been laid by Resolution 120 of Lambeth 1958, which noted the pastoral dilemma without offering any solution beyond further study. The pastoral concern for the hardship imposed on a wife suddenly “put away” by her husband in a society in which women are not free agents was the driving consideration in making the change. A number of African bishops reacted negatively to the Resolution, feeling it undercut their evangelism efforts, though others welcomed it as a recognition that “first world” values do not always easily adapt to the “third world.”

Divorce and remarriage

The most obvious discontinuity we currently live with in the area of sexual relationships is the practice of divorce and remarriage which stands in the face of Jesus’s explicit prohibition against both the dissolution of and the contracting of subsequent marriages found in the synoptic gospels, in particular, Mark 10 2-9. (CTD 14)

Many, including some of the most vocal opponents of same-sex marriage have availed themselves of the church’s pastoral toleration of remarriage after divorce. How did the church come to this tolerant position, given the seemingly unambiguous witness of Scripture and tradition? Stevick (157ff) outlines the process, and a full canonical review can be found in White and Dykman (I:398ff).

             English Canon Law of 1603 forbids remarriage after divorce. In America, the first mitigation of this rule was a recognition of the Matthean exception (for adultery) by resolution (not canon) in 1808. As White and Dykman note, this exception

does not appear in the parallel passages... and is thought by many scholars to be an early insertion into the text. Neither Western canon law generally, not the canons of the Church of England, permitted divorce on this ground. (WD I:405)

It was not until 1868 that the first “remarriage canon” was introduced; it repeated the disallowance of remarriage except in the Matthean case, and introduced a second possibility: the remarriage of a divorced couple. Little of note developed for our purposes until 1931, when the provision for annulment by a bishop or ecclesiastical court, on the basis of listed impediments, was introduced. In 1937 a sea-change began, largely because “the Church’s views on divorce and remarriage were being increasingly ignored by the public.” (WD I:409) A report by the Joint Commission on Holy Matrimony noted:

It is repeatedly said that neither an individual Bishop nor the Church itself has the power to take any action contrary to Christ’s Teaching. Many leaders in the Church assert without hesitation that the teaching of Christ in this matter is perfectly clear: viz., that the re-marriage of any divorced person constitutes adultery and that such re-marriage sanctions and condones a definite sin.

(1) The obvious reply is that we should not be discussing this matter at all if Christ had made his mind perfectly clear.

(2) The pamphlet edited by Dr. [Howard Chandler] Robbins shows that different Churches, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Roman Church, our own Church and various Protestant Churches have interpreted His mind in different ways.

(3) The opinion of the leading scholars is contrary to the above views . . .(WD I:409-410)

The report was received, but the suggested discretionary clause leaving the decision up to the bishop was defeated. In 1946, the Matthean exception was removed, but instead of the simple guidelines suggested by the commission, the long list of impediments was maintained, and the procedure for obtaining a decree of nullity moved to a separate canon. Finally, in 1973, the list of impediments was removed (and any reference to them), and the wording altered to remove the distinctions concerning prior and subsequent impediments. The standing (since 1946) authorization that the Bishop or Ecclesiastical Authority shall determine whether a marriage still exists “in the eyes of this Church” effectively granted full discretion and local option to that authority. This marked, as noted in WD I:421, the possibility for effective recognition of divorce in the Episcopal Church.

Concluding observations: Pastoral perspectives and approaches

In 1958, Committee 5 of the Lambeth Conference reported:

Monogamous marriage, especially as it developed among the people of the Middle East and in the New Testament, is not the idea or invention of western civilization, or of so-called Christian countries. It is a fundamental truth about the nature of man and woman as God has created them, reinforced by the explicit teaching of Christ, valid for all mankind, in every society... Thus, the Church must steadfastly uphold the standard of life-long monogamy. Yet, in doing so, the Church must be prepared to face, frankly and sympathetically, the problems this teaching creates, and must accept responsibility to work wholeheartedly towards their solution. Discipline in this matter may sometimes differ in various provinces of the Church, according to what is thought to be wise....

The first part of this statement represents a particularly hyperbolic manifestation of the “marriage myth.” There are two ways to address the “problems this teaching creates.” One is to revise the teaching itself; a second, and more moderate, solution is to look at the pastoral reality that has coexisted with the ideal myth, and recommend the use of local option and discretion as suggested in the last section of this citation from Lambeth. Pastoral exceptions to the ideal myth have already been allowed, some of them in stark contrast with the clearest aspects of the myth itself. This has sometimes been accomplished, as in the 1937 joint commission report to General Convention, by asserting that Christ has not been as clear on the subject as has been claimed, and asserting that the existence of debate itself indicates that lack of clarity. If this can be claimed in the matter of divorce — about which a legal “prudent man” encountering the Scripture and Tradition for the first time would likely take the matter to be rather clearer than not — how much more can the claim be made when the question of same-sex marriage arises, about which, as the shelves of commentary and endless argument have shown, there is considerable debate, and about which Christ said nothing at all?

             Also of concern is the fact that some of the most vocal defenders of a strict application of the prohibitions they exegete against gays and lesbians are far more casual in their application of the prohibitions against divorce and remarriage to themselves. It is troubling to find so many in the church willing to apply a hermeneutic of suspicion only to those texts which might make demands upon them, while insisting on a rigorous interpretation of texts that govern only the behavior of others. This is morally dangerous to them and to the church. Those who strain out gnats and gulp down camels, who set obstacles in the way of the little ones who seek Christ, who bar the door against others while not entering themselves, and who tie heavy burdens for others but do not lift a finger to carry them are those most sternly judged in the day of the great King's Advent.

Sodom or Jerusalem?

As the Epistle of Jude (v7) notes, the sin of the men of Sodom lay in their assault upon those deemed “strange.” Footnote What the men of Sodom did was to “go after strange flesh” (Jude 7 KJV), or, as we would say, they sought the flesh of strangers, perhaps intending to rape or abuse them. Footnote However, the men of Sodom (Gen 19) were not themselves gay (at least not all of them, or not exclusively—witness Lot’s sons-in-law, v14); nor did they see gay sex as something good: when Lot begged them to turn aside from their intended “wickedness” they threatened to “do worse to him than to them.” (vv7,9) It was the men in the house, Lot’s visitors, God’s angels, whom the Sodomites regarded as strange, foreign, different, queer — and they meant them harm because of it.

             The destruction of Sodom stands as a warning — not to gay and lesbian persons, but to those who revile them, demean them, or impose upon them a greater discipline than they themselves are willing to bear. The church has a choice to turn its back on or persecute “the others” in its midst, or to open its gates in welcome. It is in how we treat “the others” that we are judged.


The Liturgical Background

Any attempt to craft a Blessing of Same-Sex Unions must engage a review of the history of the rite of marriage and the history of Same-Sex Blessings. We must look for a structural “shape” of marriage: some more or less constant pattern in the rite that can show us by contrast the unessential aspects present... (Oliver 216)

This section follows Juan Oliver’s suggestion and begins with an examination of the marriage rites of the Episcopal Church, including key Scriptural allusions and citations embodied in them, with an eye to determine how closely the Scripture which informs the marriage rites relates to heterosexual marriage. A critique of the structure of the current Episcopal rite is offered. Finally, some of the classical rites for “blessing” same-sex relationships and the proliferating modern versions of “gay marriage” are reviewed. Out of this mix some signposts towards a liturgical theology of marriage will begin to emerge.

Changing structures and meanings in Episcopal marriage rites

Comparison of the Rites from 1662 through 1785/6 to 1979

Beginning on page 47 is an extensive and detailed “harmony” of the authorized marriage rites of the Episcopal Church (1789, 1892, 1928 and 1979), with the rootstock (the 1662 English rite), several branches (the 1785 King’s Chapel version, and “Franklin’s Prayer Book”) and a few intermediate stems (the 1785/6, 1958, and 1970 proposals).

             The first thing to strike one in these rites is the great variation in language: scarcely a clause or a paragraph has remained untouched in the course of revision. What has remained constant may be taken to represent either “core” language, or totemic incantations (where the significance lies not in what is said but in that it is said) — liturgical history provides examples of both. Second, one is struck by the massive ritual pruning between 1662 and 1785. About eighty percent of the Anglican rite was removed from the Episcopal, only a tiny fraction of which was replaced in the 1789 edition. Over the years since bits of the older rite have crept back in (and back out again) but the current rite has restored much of what was removed at the Revolution, and added some features — with mixed results.

             The formal movement towards the drastic 1785-1789 revision can be traced to the instigation of New England deputies whose Boston meeting of September 1785 proposed

That the Introduction to the Marriage Service, containing the reasons why matrimony was ordained, be omitted, from the words, “holy matrimony,” to “ therefore if any man can shew any just cause,” &c... [and] that the words, “with my body I thee worship [...]” in giving the ring, be omitted. (McGarvey 57*)

These suggestions were included in the proposal at the first General Convention in 1785; the Convention moved deleting plighting and pledging troths, and the long exhortation after the blessing. (McGarvey 63*). Between 1785/6 and formal adoption in 1789/90 the only significant changes were the restoration of this short section of the opening charge:

which is commended of Saint Paul to be honourable among all men: and therefore is not by any to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly, but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God. Into this holy estate these two persons present come now to be joined.

and the reappearance of the betrothal language.

             The changes proposed in 1785/86 are far more radical than the kinds of alterations made in other venues. Two examples are given for comparison: the King’s Chapel rite, which made some quite progressive alterations — and appears to be the only marriage liturgy to include Jesus’ teaching that marriage is not a part of the world to come — and “Franklin’s” Prayerbook, which made some significant abridgments (the authors priding themselves, as the Preface states, on making no additions.) Footnote

             The removal of the “ends” or “causes why marriage was instituted” is a striking change in 1785, and their reappearance, even in altered sequence, in 1979 is unfortunate, for reasons to be discussed at greater length on page 41 in connection with the concept of covenant.

Scriptural allusions and readings

More astounding than the 1785 changes in the opening exhortation is the fact that every Scriptural reference save that to Isaac and Rebecca, and the declaration from Matthew 19.6, was removed from the marriage rite: gone is any reference (even obliquely) to Genesis, to Cana, to Ephesians. Over the course of revision, various Scriptural passages or allusions were woven back into the text, which will be examined below. The wedding at Cana hardly needs comment: it is difficult to see what relevance this passage has to marriage in the Western tradition. Footnote The standard allusions to Genesis and Ephesians deserve greater attention, however.

“Instituted by God”

The commonplace that God “instituted” marriage is not born out by the narratives of Genesis. The most that can be said for Genesis 1 is that God instituted sex. It is not possible to read matrimony into the command “be fruitful and multiply” which God addresses to humankind unless one is willing to give the same weight to the same command addressed a few verses earlier to the birds and the fish. Similarly, Genesis 2 does not portray marriage, but a parable of the human need for companionship. While God appears in this passage in part as matchmaker (an observation made by Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof), there is hardly any consistent marriage doctrine to be derived from this passage except that human companionship is necessary, lasting, and brings about a change in the relationships a spouse has with their family of origin. We have already established (page 19) the multivalency of this passage in Jewish tradition. Westermann notes that while some have claimed the Genesis 2 passage to be about the establishment of monogamy, “it is not concerned with the foundation of any sort of institution, but with primeval event.” (Westermann 232) Von Rad points out that men did not in fact, in ancient Israel, forsake their fathers and mothers to cleave to their wives: quite the contrary — as a rule wives were taken into the husband’s family. Footnote This story is about sexual union, not monogamy. (von Rad 85)

“A great mystery” of Ephesians 5

The marriage that Paul applied as a metaphor for the relation between Christ and the church was a marriage few would want to see reproduced today. It was based on inequality of the partners, submission of one, dominion of the other. This harked back to imagery from the Hebrew Scriptures in which God was husband (= Lord) and Israel his bride (or one of his brides — God as a Middle Eastern potentate could have many brides, while the brides could only have one husband; see Ezekiel 23, for example. This is the root of the metaphorical connection between idolatry and sexual license that runs through so much of Hebrew legal, prophetic, and poetic literature: those who go after other gods are “adulterers” or fornicators.)

             In our day, this model of marriage has been rejected, and a new one is beginning to emerge, based more on equal partnership. One of the positive contributions of same-sex marriage has been to help break down the notion of stereotyped sex-based roles of dominance and submission — indeed, this may be what some who are invested in the old system of male privilege find most distressing and threatening. It may also be the case that the gradual equalization of marriage roles in contemporary society forms part of the underlying pressure towards same-sex marriage: there may be a synergy at work towards a new model of marriage that is, if anything, a better model for the relationship between Christ and the Church than the one advanced by Paul. This will be addressed at greater length in the discussion of covenant on page 41.

Marriage in the other passages from the current rite

Of the remaining passages in the current rite, only two deal directly with marriage: Tobit 8.5b-8, and Mark 10.6-9,13-16. All of the rest deal generically with love or fidelity, but are neither sexual in content, nor limited to heterosexuals. The readings from 1 Cor 13 and John 15.17 were commonly used in the same-sex rites documented by John Boswell (Boswell 1994:216) and occur in a number of the same-sex rites outlined below.

             The reading from Song of Songs (8.6-7) is interesting chiefly in light of Rabbinic tradition: The Song of Songs Rabbah (Midrash) states (translation, Neusner 223)

“For love is as strong as death” — as strong as death is the love with which Jonathan loved David: “And Jonathan loved him as his own soul.” (1 Sam 18.1) “Jealousy is as cruel as the grave” — the jealousy of Saul against David: “And Saul eyed David.” (1 Sam 18.9) Another explanation: “Love is as strong as death” — as strong as death is the love with which a man loves his wife: “Enjoy life with the wife whom you love” (Qoh 9.9) “Jealousy is as cruel as the grave” — the jealousy that she causes in him and leads him to say to her, “Do no speak with such-and-so.” If she goes and speaks with that man, forthwith: “The spirit of jealousy comes upon him and he is jealous on account of his wife.” (Num 5.14)

It is significant that one of the few uses of Song of Songs in the Episcopal liturgy should be a passage as suitable to a same-sex couple as to a heterosexual one. Indeed, the only other use in the BCP is in the proper Of a Monastic I. It is fascinating to see how a given text can be applied to marriage, a covenant relationship between two people of the same sex, Footnote and the memorial of a celibate.

             This brief review of the language and scriptural allusions in the rites has not revealed the basic underlying structure of those rites. What has been revealed is that the scriptural passages are multivalent, and with very few exceptions as capable of application to same-sex marriage as to different-sex marriage (or to celibate commitment, for that matter). It is significant that the texts which most clearly address marriage in earlier rites (Ephesians, 1 Peter) have been dropped as no longer culturally adequate for use in marriage rites today. Given the fluidity of the surface language, an examination of the deeper structure of the marriage rites is in order.

The structure of the rites

Certain key elements have been part of the marriage rite since the Renaissance—the time at which the West Footnote finalized the church’s control over marriage — rendered definitive for Roman Catholics at Trent, and for the Church of England through Lord Hardwicke’s Act of 1763. (Ervin 58,59) Both declared that the church made a marriage valid not by means of blessing but by witnessing the consent of the parties. Hardwicke’s Act did not govern the church in the American colonies; and the provision added to the 1789 rite to allow marriage in a private house would not have been possible under Hardwicke. Moreover, Hardwicke was reversed even in England in 1836, when marriage at the registry office gained legal status, “thus in effect restoring the true and ancient principle that the consent of the parties, and not the purely disciplinary requirement of the nuptial blessing, determines the validity of the marriage.” (Ervin 59)

             An outline of the structure of the authorized rites from 1662 through to the present reveals a core structure, which has remained far more consistent than the verbal particulars until the latest revision.

Structures of the rites

1662

1789

1892

1928

1979

Exhortation with “causes” of marriage

Exhortation (no causes)

Exhortation (no causes)

Exhortation (no causes)

Exhortation with “intentions”

Inquiry to assembly for impediments

Inquiry to assembly for impediments

Inquiry to assembly for impediments

Inquiry to assembly for impediments

Inquiry to assembly for impediments

Charge to couple for impediments

Charge to couple for impediments

Charge to couple for impediments

Charge to couple for impediments

Charge to couple for impediments

Consents

Consents

Consents

Consents

Consents (bride first)

 

 

 

 

Consent of assembly to support couple

Giving of bride

Giving of bride

Giving of bride

Giving of bride

[Optional giving of bride, groom, or both]

 

 

 

 

Ministry of the Word

Prayer, Reading(s), [Psalmody,] [Homily]

Exchange of vows with joining of hands

Exchange of vows with joining of hands

Exchange of vows with joining of hands

Exchange of vows with joining of hands

Exchange of vows with joining of hands

 

 

 

[Optional blessing of ring]

[Blessing of ring(s) or other symbol(s)]

Giving of ring

Giving of ring

Giving of ring

Giving of ring

Giving of ring(s)

 

 

 

 

Declaration of marriage

 

 

 

 

Matt. 19.6

 

Lord’s Prayer

Lord’s Prayer

Lord’s Prayer

Lord’s Prayer [omitted if Eucharist follows]

Prayer for blessing

Prayer for blessing

Prayer for blessing

Prayer for blessing

Prayers for couple

 

 

 

[Optional prayer for children]

[including optional prayer for children]

 

 

 

 

Additional prayers

 

 

 

[Optional prayer for couple]

[One of two prayers for couple]

Matt. 19.6

Matt. 19.6

Matt. 19.6

Matt. 19.6

 

Declaration of marriage

Declaration of marriage

Declaration of marriage

Declaration of marriage

 

Solemn blessing

Solemn blessing

Solemn blessing

Solemn blessing

Solemn blessing

 

 

 

 

The Peace

 

 

 

[Proper provided for optional Eucharist]

[Optional Eucharist]

Procession to altar with Psalms

 

 

 

 

Kyrie, Lord’s Prayer and Preces

 

 

 

 

Prayer for couple

 

 

 

 

[Optional prayer for children]

 

 

 

 

Blessing of couple

 

 

 

 

Prayer for couple

 

 

 

 

Exhortation / Sermon on duties of marriage

 

 

 

 


The structure of the rite remained relatively unchanged until 1928, with the exception of the deletion of all following the 1662 solemn blessing. The 1979 rite, in addition to (optionally) restoring an extensive liturgical section to the post-blessing position, makes a number of other changes that effectively transform a relatively focused rite, in which actions follow close upon each other, into a sort of layer-cake. Whether this is seen as enrichment will depend on one’s point of view. The basic pre-1979 order is

1)         welcome, exhort

2)         establish right to consent

3)         ask passive consent of couple

4)         present the bride

5)         couple give active consent (vows) with liturgical act of hand-joining and ring-giving

6)         pray for blessing

7)         pronounce indissolubility

8)         declare marriage, and finally

9)         bless the marriage.

The 1979 rite makes these changes

3b)       asks the assembly if they will support the couple

4)         makes giving of bride optional, or adds giving of groom

4b)       adds Ministry of the Word

4c)        adds optional blessing of ring before the vows (introduced in 1928)

5b)       moves and reverses the declaration of marriage and pronouncement of indissolubility

5)         adds long sequence of prayers, without particular reference to blessing

10)       provides for optional eucharist after the peace

Several of these features seriously detract from the unity of the rite, and two of them are of questionable value, though it is possible to discern thoughtful and valuable intentions at work in their inclusion.

             Asking the will of the assembly to support the couple comes at a point in the service at which analogous questions are asked in the Baptismal, Ordination, and Institution liturgies. Though the question and response simply promise support of the couple, the placement immediately after the consents of the couple is symbolically misleading, and highlights an ecclesial aspect of the service at the wrong point. Marriage is not ecclesial in its initiation, but in its ongoing life. At its beginning marriage is only between the couple. They are not becoming part of the congregation (Baptism) nor entering into a special relationship with it (Institution) nor is the active consent of the congregation required beyond the absence of impediments (Ordination). The essential character of marriage is the free consent of the individuals being married: anything that clouds that clarity at this or any other point in the service is out of place.

             It is for this reason that the option to omit the “giving of the bride” is a positive development. The addition of the possible giving of the groom, which suggests sponsorship, is utterly out of place at this point. The spouses are, and must be seen as, speaking only and freely for themselves, sponsoring themselves (as the root of the word shows) and making a personal commitment to each other in God’s presence.

             If there is a desire for a note of “sponsorship” it is best established in a separate rite some time prior to marriage, as the 1996 CSSU rite suggests (see below). This restores the ancient separation of betrothal from marriage which has been conflated in our rite since the middle ages — rather like the truncated catechumenate of the medieval and modern baptismal rites. In short, the congregation should be most involved in the period of discernment leading up to marriage and in support of the marriage after the wedding has taken place — but the marriage itself deserves the liturgical clarity of an act of interpersonal commitment, thereby held, as it were, as a jewel in its setting.

             If the note of sponsorship is moved (with the declaration of consent) to an earlier rite, the note of ongoing support from the congregation for the married life is still welcome. This is, admittedly, the purport of the text at hand; but its brevity and its structural placement taken together mitigate against the text conveying that meaning most effectively. A better means of establishing this support emerges in connection with the placement of the prayers in the 1979 rite.

             The position of the Ministry of the Word in that rite mirrors the structure of the ordination rites, leading, as the ordination rites lead to consecration, directly to the solemnization of the vows, followed immediately and appropriately by the declaration of marriage. However, the solemn blessing is then unaccountably delayed by the insertion of a long sequence of prayers. These prayers would better be placed, as in the ordination rite, prior to the Ministry of the Word, at the position now occupied by the question concerning the support of the assembly. Ideally, these prayers could then be recast in litany form, and the congregation’s participation would then convey their support far more eloquently than the current short question and answer, and could be phrased so as to remove any suggestion of “sponsorship” instead of ongoing support. Footnote This also would close the unaccountable gap between declaration of marriage and blessing upon marriage.

             Finally, the blessing of the ring, which made its appearance in 1928, seems extraneous, rather like the “blessing” of the water used at the eucharist. It obscures the point that the “sign” of marriage is the couple themselves; it gives undue prominence to the Celebrant exactly at the point at which, liturgically speaking, she is completely unnecessary. Footnote

             This brief review of the structure of the Episcopal rites has already made some suggestions towards adaptation. An even greater adaptation, of course, would be to produce a rite capable of use by same-sex as well as different-sex couples, such as that suggested in the CSSU rite. We have already seen that much of the scriptural language is sex-neutral. The structure of the rite itself seems open to the possibility. What, if any, adaptations can be found in the tradition, or in the experiments at parallel rites now coming into existence, is the subject of the next section.

Same-sex rites: Purported and adopted

Having examined the marriage rites of the Episcopal Church, with a few anticipatory glances at current same-sex rites, I now will examine some of these rites in greater detail. As noted, the difficulty of laying out parallel texts is great even in rites as directly derivative as those used in the Episcopal Church’s marriage liturgy; how much more difficult to do such a comparison of the various rites for “blessing unions” or same-sex marriage. Nonetheless, I will attempt to highlight similarities in structure and content, and certain key elements will be seen to emerge.


The case for “ancient rites” — assessment of Boswell

First, note must be taken of the work John Boswell has done in bringing the “brother-making” rites of the Eastern church to wider attention. Boswell’s work remains controversial, in part because careless reading (and his own admittedly ill-advised pre-publication talks) led many to assume he was making greater claims than he actually did. His primary claim was that, whatever the hierarchs may have intended, the “brother-making” rites came to be seen as, and were used as, “same-sex union” ceremonies, at least in some cases. Boswell was hardly the first to make this observation. Martin Smith, SSJE, noted in an Advent 1982 sermon (the year Boswell was beginning his work),

In the Orthodox Church there is a rich sacramental rite of blessing friends called bratotvornenie. An expert tells me it is admitted ruefully that devout homosexual partners have used this service to covenant their relationship. (Cowley 12)

Boswell documented as well the suppression of these rites, which only became necessary, from the church’s perspective, because they were being “misunderstood.” Whatever the intent of the framers of the rites, or the precise nature of the “misunderstandings” surrounding them, same-sex couples who took part in them, and the congregations who witnessed them, sometimes saw them as the equivalent of marriage, and there is no doubt that a sexual component “was a dimension of the relationship in many cases.” (Stuhlman 89)

             This is where a crucial concept in liturgical studies comes in: reception. Ultimately it does not matter what the theologians say a rite “means,” they can only try to be as clear as possible about what they intend — the “meaning” of the rite will take form in the minds of the assembly, and only there. The intention of the liturgist/theologian will always translate to meaning in the minds of the worshipers. This basic rule of communication theory has long been overlooked in the church, in spite of its experience and knowledge that the law of worship constitutes and establishes the law of belief. Footnote

             Boswell’s strongest point along these lines involves the visual symbolism of the rites, where the greatest similarity with marriage rites lies.

The sight of a couple standing hand-in-hand at the altar, being joined and blessed by the priest, would last longer in imagination and memory than the precise wording of any ceremony, heard every now and then by congregants but not available in premodern societies with much lower rates of literacy and no printed books. The principle structural similarities between the ceremony of same-sex union and heterosexual nuptial offices were binding with a stole or veil, the imposition of crowns, the holding of a feast after the ceremony for family and friends, the making of circles around the altar, the use of a cross, occasionally the use of swords, and—virtually always—the joining of right hands. (Boswell 1994:206)

If the liturgists who crafted these rites did not want them to be seen as marriages, they were not counting on the power of symbols at their disposal.

             Whatever flaws Boswell’s work has, Footnote he is owed a debt for bringing much of this material to light, and providing original texts and translations for further study, adaptation, and use — even if the use does not match the intent of the original authors.

Rites used for same-sex marriage

The following are outlines of some of the same-sex rites either in use or proposed. Scriptural citations are included, and a brief commentary on specific issues raised by the structures, prayers, and scriptures used follows each rite. General observations appear at the end of this section.

Early 14th century Serbian Slavonic (Boswell 1994:317)

                        Entrance

                        Joining of right hands on Gospel Book, cross in left hands

                        Trisagion, Lord’s Prayer, Hymn of the day

                        Litany including prayers for couple

                        Prayer for couple

                        Prayer with reference to God who “fashioned humankind after thine image” and naming of paired saints

                        Switching crosses and candles

                        Psalm 68.26

                        1 Cor 12.27-31, 13.1-8

                        Alleluia (Ps 112.1, 80.1)

                        Gospel: John 17.1,18-26

                        Peace and prayer

                        Couple kiss Gospel book and each other

                        Reception of communion by couple

                        Couple led, hand in hand, around the sanctuary, singing Ps 80.14-15, 112.1, 133.1, Gloria patri

                        Invocation of martyrs, Gloria patri

                        Marian hymn

                        Departure

Perhaps the most striking thing in this rite is the reference to Gen 1.27. The tendency of secondary theology to coopt this verse for heterosexual marriage makes its appearance in a same-sex rite (whether a marriage ceremony or not) welcome.

1980s Metropolitan Community Church “Service of Holy Union” (Eskridge 194ff)

                        Welcome and exhortation

                        Inquiry to assembly for impediments

                        Charge to couple for impediments

                        Consents (“so long as there is love”)

                        Hymn

                        Exhortation with citation of Ruth 1.16-17

                        Homily

                        Exchange of vows written by couple

                        Blessing and exchange of rings

                        Declaration of union

                        Solemn blessing

This rite closely follows the Episcopal rite of 1789 — probably too closely. It even declares “holy union” to be “an honorable estate, instituted of God...” The close parallel renders the alteration of “as long as you both shall live” to “so long as there is love” all the more startling. This rewrite falls short the inherent unconditional quality of covenant (see below, page 41). The use of Ruth 1.16-17 becomes problematical in this light — contrasting a pledge of permanent loyalty until death (“where you die, I die, there will I be buried”) with what appears a subjective criterion.

             These verses present another problem. Unlike the story of David and Jonathan, there is no hint in the story of Ruth and Naomi of anything other than personal devotion of a daughter-in-law to her mother-in-law. However, these verses represent one of the most beautiful statements of personal fidelity in Scripture. Footnote This may well be a case where knowledge of context will have to be set aside in favor of the words actually cited. Certainly other passages used at weddings (e.g., 1 Cor 13) are similarly “stretched.”

1996 Celebration and Blessing of a Covenant in Love, Episcopal Footnote

                        Introductory declaration of purpose to celebrate relationship

                        Welcome to the couple

                        Prayer for couple and congregation

                        Declarations of consent

                        Affirmation by the community

                        Ministry of the Word: Song of Songs 3.1-4, John 15:9-17

                        Exchange of vows with joined hands

                        Blessing and exchange of symbols Footnote

                        Declaration of unity, prayer for light and love

                        Prayers for the couple

                        Blessing of couple

The pattern followed here is standard. The reading from Song 3.1-4 is suitable for this service for two men (even in a non-inclusive translation) since the gender of the one seeking “the beloved” is not identified. This passage was used by John of the Cross as an allegory for his own personal search for Christ.

1994 Honoring an Abiding Relationship and giving thanks, Episcopal

                        Acclamation and hymn

                        Welcome to congregation

                        Litany, ending with prayer for blessing of couple

                        Proclamation of the Word: Zephaniah 3.14-20; Psalm 23; 2 Cor 5.17-20; Luke 10:21-24

                        Hymn (Love divine, all loves excelling)

                        Prayer of thanksgiving

                        Renewal of vows of commitment, love and trust, with joined hands

                        Couple asks congregation for support in three-part litany

                        Peace

                        Holy Communion

                        Postcommunion

                        Blessing of whole congregation with couple standing in the midst

This rite (for two women) represents the single most interesting of the “handmade” rites collected here, and shows a remarkable liturgical sensitivity to a number of the deficiencies in the current marriage service described above. Passive consents are omitted — though perhaps because this was an anniversary thanksgiving service. The placement of the litany at the beginning (as in the ordination rites) provides a prayerful entry into the ceremony, and sets a thanksgiving tone. The innovation of having the couple themselves ask the congregation for support after the renewal of vows, is so obvious and effective one wonders why it hasn’t appeared more frequently. It seems quite natural to allow adults capable of making commitment to each other to ask the support of their extended family. Similarly, having the couple process to the midst of the congregation to receive and share in the solemn blessing is inspired.

             The choice of readings shows considerable originality and careful thought as well. The 2 Cor 5 reading captures the theological import of marriage as sign of Christ’s redemptive work making all things new.

1995 Celebration of 15th Anniversary and Blessing of Covenant, Episcopal

                        Procession

                        Opening exhortation

                        Consent of couple

                        Consent of congregation

                        Ministry of the Word: Collect, Micah 4.1-3,6-8; 1 Cor 13.1-7,13; Anthem; Matt. 5:14-16

                        Homily

                        Exchange of vows

                        Blessing and exchange of rings

                        Declaration of unity and covenant; Matt 19.6

                        Anthem

                        Prayers for the couple

                        Blessing of couple

                        Peace

                        Holy Communion

                        Postcommunion

                        Solemn blessing of couple

                        Retiring procession

This rite is closely modeled on the BCP 1979. The opening exhortation states “the union of two persons in heart, body and mind is intended by God for their mutual joy, for the help and comfort given one another in adversity, and that their love may be a blessing to all whom they encounter.” This variation is welcome. The note of justice and witness in the readings from Micah and Matthew provide a note of “the couple as inspiration to the community.” This is welcome in light of the fact that many marriage prayers seem to look towards weakness and need for support rather than leadership and overflowing joy.

1995 Celebration and Blessing of Commitment, Episcopal

                        Entrance hymn

                        Welcome and explanation grounded in the Mandatum commandment

                        Consents

                        Question to congregation: will you pray and work for the honoring of all committed relationships?

                        Ministry of the Word: Collect; reading from Maya Angelou; 1 Cor 13.1-13; John 17.1,18-26

                        Homily

                        Exchange of vows, hands joined

                        Blessing or rings

                        Exchange of rings

                        Declaration of covenant; Matt 19.6

                        Prayers (litany) for couple and the world

                        Blessing of the couple

                        Kiss of peace

                        Holy Communion

                        Postcommunion, Blessing, Dismissal

Again a standard structural form. The reference to the Mandatum in the opening welcome, and the question to the congregation placing the focus not on the specific couple but on all relationships enhance a communitarian theme.

1996 Celebration of Holy Eucharist with Blessing of Covenant of Holy Union, Episcopal

                        Entrance, acclamation; Collect for Purity, Collect of Easter 7

                        Reading: Luke 6.32-38

                        Hymn (Ode to Joy)

                        Gospel: Mark 12.28-34

                        Homily

                        Consent of couple

                        Consent of congregation (double)

                        Exchange of covenant with joined hands

                        Blessing of rings

                        Exchange of rings

                        Prayers of the People (standard form), but beginning with petition for couple

                        Blessing in berakhah form, with laying on of hands

                        Peace

                        Holy Communion

This form follows the 1979 standard closely, and was celebrated as part of a Sunday liturgy. Thus the prayers of the people were Form 1 with an added petition. This unfortunately highlights the gap between making of vows / blessing of couple. However, the use of a classic berakhah form of blessing, and the use of laying on of hands for the blessing is simple and eloquent (far more than some of the exotic imports suggested in the CSSU rite, which while having Eastern precedent bear less relevance in a Western church; see below.)

1996 Rite for the Celebration of Commitment to a Life Together, Episcopal (CSSU)

First part: Declaration of Intent (during Sunday Eucharist)

                        Welcome, explanation

                        Song of Praise, Collect, Readings of the day appointed

                        Further explanation

                        Couple states their intent to seek support and prayers

                        Couple make passive consent in response to president

                        President asks sponsors if they support the couple; they respond, “We will. Blessed be God who appears to us in their love.”

                        The president similarly queries the congregation, who respond as above.

                        Prayers over the couple

                        Peace, Offertory, Communion

Second part: Celebration of Commitment (During Sunday Eucharist)

                        Welcome

                        Song of Praise

                        [Short form of Declaration of Consent only if long form not used earlier — no consent of the congregation]

                        Prayer for couple

                        Readings (if not on Sunday)

                                     Song of Solomon 2.10-13,8.6-7; 1 Sam 18.1b,3, 20.16-17,42a; Ruth 1.16-17, Ecclesiastes 4.9-12

                                     Psalms 67, 85, 111, 127, 133.1-3, 149

                                     Rom 12.9-21; 1 Cor 3.1-13; Col 3.12b-16a, 1 John 4.7-12

                                     Matt 7.24-27; Luke 6.20-23; John 2.1-12a; John 15.9-17; John 17.1, 18-26

                        Vows, with hands joined, expressed mutually (I give; I take) with response elicited from people: Blessed by God who appears to us in their love.

                        Blessing and exchange of rings, with response of people

                        Prayers of the people: litany covering standard petitions, including, but not ending with prayer for couple

                        Optional ritual acts (joining hands on Gospel, crowning, anointing, procession around the altar, draping in veil or tying with cord) during which an anthem extolling famous couples and models of God’s preservation

                        Elaborate blessing of couple in form of a litany with president, deacon and people, with tripartite praises of God as source of life, Liberator of the world, and Renewer of the earth, ending with a blessing in the name of the living God, the Source, the Word, and the Spirit

                        Peace, during which Ps 85.10,22 is sung

This rite is a frustrating mix of good ideas and wrong turns. Already noted is the wise separation of the declaration of consent and its placement in a separate service. The mutual expression of the vows is a thoughtful innovation, emphasizing the mutuality of gift and reception. The problem of the position of the prayers of the people has been noted — it is exacerbated here because the service is intended for use on a Sunday.

             A major weakness of this rite, perhaps overcompensating for the era in which marriages were family rather than church affairs — much like Baptism before the current Prayer Book revision — is the emphasis on the congregation at inappropriate moments in the rite, and to an inappropriate extent. Marriage, unlike Baptism, does not admit one to the ecclesial community, so the role of the community is different in marriage than in Baptism. I have noted above the elements of sponsorship and support, and these are adequately expressed at other points in the rite without the repeated exclamations during the vows and at the solemn blessing — these are moments that belong to the couple, and the most appropriate liturgical mode of participation by the assembly at these points would be silent attention. Footnote The constant interruption by the deacon and the congregation might well be perceived as annoying.

             Moreover, the form of the exclamation, “Blessed be God who appears to us in their love,” appears to stem, per the theological rationale in the Consultation report, from the desire to ground the rite in the doctrine of the Trinity. This is simply a mistake. Marriage isn’t about the Trinity. Footnote It is about the Incarnation: it is an image of the primal gift of the self-above-all to the other who becomes the body of that self — kenosis and pleroma all in one.

             One advantage of same-sex marriage over different-sex marriage is that there is no “natural” role assignment based on stereotypes of male = Christ and female = “the church.” Each partner can represent the kenotic Lord to the other, bearing each others burdens, sharing each others joys. More will be said on this in the section on covenant, page 41.

Concluding comments

The outlines of rites collected here show that the essential elements of marriage have remained fairly constant. The major issue becomes how to place the elements in such a way as to focus attention on what the couple are doing in the midst of the church gathered in prayer and thanksgiving. As I have noted, it is the added role for the congregation (beginning in 1979) that creates the greatest difficulties and opportunities for breaking the pattern or rhythm of the rite. Several suggestions have emerged in the discussion of rites proposed and performed over the last few years. The next years may bring refinement and clarity, and ultimately, blessing upon the church and those who are nourished in her.

“Blessing” as a pointer towards a theology of marriage

On the other hand, the church can continue on its way as if nothing has happened. It did this with Galileo and Darwin with unhappy results. It appears that the church has several options (in addition to doing nothing):

                        The church could decide that it has erred in getting involved with marriage at all. Marriage existed as social institution long before the church

became rather reluctantly involved as a stabilizing witness. There is nothing to prevent the church desacramentalizing marriage in the same way it did the subdiaconate — or, in the Reformation churches, ceased to recognize religious vows, and dispensed with clerical celibacy.

                        The church could simply add same-sex marriage (or blessing of same-sex unions) with appropriately crafted rites of no greater theological depth than the ones currently used for different-sex marriage.

                        Or the church could seize this opportunity to reevaluate and redeem a struggling institution, seek new forms, images, and vitality for marriage, and focus on what it as church brings to the marriage: blessing and ecclesial community.

In this final portion of my study I will seek to chart out a course for carrying the third option forward — an option already well under way through the work of the CSSU. Since the church’s only unique faculty in marriage is in conferring its blessing, this is the fulcrum point with which I will attempt to leverage a model of marriage that is both flexible and inclusive for both same- and different-sex couples, though perhaps celebrated less often, and with a greater degree of commitment.

What is blessing?

The question of what blessing is is open; it is a liturgical phenomenon for which the church has yet to develop a clear theology. However, the following can be observed:

             There are three basic types of blessing, which I will call benediction, purification, and sanctification. These three forms of blessing have roots in Jewish worship, under the root-forms of brkh, kpr or hr, and kdš, commonly expressed in such rites and prayers as the many berakhoth, the ritual of Yom Kippur, and the marriage agreement kiddushin. In many of the church’s “blessings” these types are mixed, Footnote though a careful analysis of the rites can tease the strands apart.

Benediction is the common form of blessing in Jewish prayers from the Rabbinic period on, and it is God, rather than the person or the gift, that is most often blessed; “Blessed art thou O Lord, etc., who givest us X so that we may Y.” The primary note is thanksgiving. The Eucharist may well derive its characteristic shape from this type of blessing, in particular the birkat hammazon that ended meals. (Talley 1976)

Purification is a very ancient form of blessing, with deep psychological roots. It is tied up with taboo and notions of ritual cleanness. It is also related to exorcism. This kind of blessing has a long association with sexuality. (Oliver 221) Many of the cleansing rituals of the Hebrew law revolve around seminal and menstrual emissions (Lev 15.32-33), and a rite of purification was required after sexual intercourse (Lev 15.18). The primary notes are cleansing and atonement. Baptism, even today, retains clear elements of this ancient blessing-mode in language of cleansing from sin. (BCP 307)

Sanctification “makes the common holy” and sets it apart (a primary note in the Jewish kiddushin or betrothal — see Bokser 166). Sanctification imparts a special condition to some object, place, or person. Unlike purification, which removes a negative, sanctification adds a positive, with a sense of dedication to some particular holy end. In Gen 2.3 the Sabbath is both blessed (brk) and hallowed (kdš) by God. The primary note in sanctification is holiness. Various rites contain elements of sanctification of things (baptismal water, eucharistic elements, altars and fonts), places (dedication of a church), or people (Baptism, ordination).

             This closer look at blessing can help articulate (and some day perhaps solve) two of the knotty problems with which the current Episcopal marriage rite, and several of the proposed same-sex or unified rites present us.

             The minister of blessing has traditionally been a priest — at least in the blessing of persons. Footnote This is emphasized in the current marriage rite in the permission for a deacon to officiate at a marriage and omit the nuptial blessing. However, this provision can only create confusion — is such a marriage a “church marriage” or a civil marriage?

             Another major problem with which our current rite faces us is the provision for marriage in which one of the parties is not a Christian. Is such a marriage a “Christian marriage?” We have already noted the canonical difficulties above, on page 24. But this option also creates liturgical/theological difficulties. If marriage signifies the union of Christ and the church, how can it do so if one of the parties in the marriage is not a member of that church? Carol Benedict†, in his presentation on Same-Sex Unions (20-22), appears to lose sight of this fact in his enthusiasm to push for a more ecclesial understanding of marriage. One possible way out of this dilemma is to suggest that the baptized party “sanctifies” the unbaptized — an idea that Paul suggested in 1 Cor 7.14 (though referring to persons married before baptism). This may also help answer the question of the deacon just considered: if a lay baptized person can baptize, and a lay baptized person can sanctify a spouse, why should the sanctification of the couple by a deacon be impermissible? Who, in fact, is doing the sanctifying?

             This takes us to a very basic question: who blesses, the priest, or God? And when a priest bids the blessing (for the language of the blessing makes it clear that is what is happening) is the priest doing so in se or as the president of the assembly? Eucharistic theology has in recent years shifted focus from the priestly celebrant to the priestly people with the priest as president. Given the long tradition that it is the couple who are the ministers of the rite, and that by Western tradition the nuptial blessing (originating in a blessing of the bride alone, Roman Catholic practice until Vatican II) is optional, it seems that the specific reliance upon sacerdotal rather than presidential blessing may represent a hangover of a totem/taboo modality that is more connected with purification than sanctification.

The decriminalization of sex

The connection of impurity with sex — going back to prehistoric times, and linked (in the West) with original sin through the controversy between Saint Augustine and the Pelagians — has deformed human society and individual human lives ever since. It is time for the church resolutely to put behind it all suggestion of some inherent impurity in sex that needs to be exorcised before sanctification can take place.

             The traditional myth of marriage makes the claim that the church’s blessing of marriage renders licit something (sex) that without the church’s blessing would be sinful. However, this fails to meet the evidence of human experience and the biblical witness.

             Long before the church blessed marriage, the inappropriateness of “fornication” Footnote was established; but the marriage of which Saint Paul speaks when he says (1 Cor 7.9) “it is better to marry than to burn” is not church marriage; there was no “church marriage” in the New Testament period; all marriage at that period was civil or cultural (i.e., what we would call “common law”) marriage. Full appreciation of the fact that the church’s blessing need not be required to “render sex licit” offers a number of possibilities. The church could get out of the “marrying business” as agent of the state in witnessing civil marriage. The church would reserve that which it alone bestows — benediction and the forum for sanctification — to those for whom ecclesial marriage is a vocation. Moreover, the church could begin to develop, as Christopher Webber has suggested, a formational approach towards marriage. (Webber 207-222) Marriage would then have its own novitiate (equivalent to the baptismal catechumenate) in which a couple could grow before deciding to make the sacramental commitment to a life together.

             This is not so radical as it might at first appear. The distinction between civil and church marriage has existed for centuries in this country, and since the nineteenth century in England. For those uncomfortable with a common-law novitiate, civil marriage could always be undertaken and experienced for a period of time before seeking the church’s benediction and sanctification in the sacramental rite. This raises the question of what a sacrament is, and how marriage as a way of life relates to it.

Is marriage a sacrament or a way of life—or both?

We have already established that, following the classic Roman pattern, consent, not consummation (the Northern European view) or the church’s blessing, makes the marriage. However, the church’s blessing in some sense makes a marriage Christian. I suggest that the debate over whether (or in what way) marriage is a sacrament, and at what point the marriage is “made” is misplaced, and resembles the debates over the “moment of consecration” in the Eucharistic rite.

What are sacraments?

The Book of Common Prayer (857f) defines sacraments narrowly: “The sacraments are outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.” Grace is further defined as “God’s favor towards us, unearned and undeserved; by grace God forgives our sins, enlightens our minds, stirs our hearts, and strengthens our wills.”

             Under these definitions marriage hardly appears at first glance to be a sacrament:

                        the outward and visible signs (joining of hands, exchange of rings as symbolic of consent and vows) are not universally observed or “ordained by God,” as Article XXV puts it;

                        there is no indication of marriage having been “given by Christ” — it could hardly be so given if it was also “instituted by God in the time of man’s innocency...”;

                        while the marriage service includes prayers for God’s favor, it does not appear that marriage in itself is a means of that favor’s transmission. Marriage, as Peter Lombard (whom the Reformers followed on this) saw it, was a sign of grace rather than a cause or means of grace. (Lawler 61) “The reluctance of the BCP to entitle it a Sacrament (though it is so called in the Homilies...) arises from the same hesitation of theologians to recognize as such a rite which did not appear to be manifestly productive of grace.” (Cross 873)

Rite and estate

These criticisms reflect the concerns and controversies of the Reformation. The Reformers wished to give the name “sacrament” only to those rites that were productive, and focused on the performance of the rite as a grace-producing appliance. Paradoxically, at the same time they also emphasized the semiotic aspect even of the dominical sacraments, and renewed the understanding that the importance of the sacraments does not lie in the sacraments themselves, but in that towards which they point — this was the heart of the debate over transubstantiation and eucharistic devotions. The third element in sacraments or sacramental rites lay in the sense in which they marked an entry into an estate as well as serving as the act by which that estate was entered. Baptism displays this liminal / transitional quality most clearly: it is a one-time rite that marks the entry into the baptized life. Ordination also bears this quality.

             Granting the deficiency of marriage as “grace-producing,” the two remaining elements that can be termed “sacramental” if not “sacraments” (except in Lombard’s significatory sense) remain true of marriage. Marriage is both a one-time rite and a processional “state of life” (Article XXV) — it is not so much a means of grace as an opportunity for grace, or, to use Byron Stuhlman’s felicitous phrase, an occasion of grace — and it is the entry to a life that can be filled with grace by God’s free gift, not simply as a one-time response to a specific act of piety. In this sense, Christian marriage is both a sacramental sign and a way of life. But what is it a sacramental sign of?

Of what is marriage sacramental?

The reluctance of Christian authors writing on the subject of marriage to cite Jesus’ only specific comment on marriage (as opposed to divorce) has been noted (see page 21). This reticence is tragic: for it is in Jesus’ teaching in Luke 20.34 (“those who attain to the resurrection do not marry”) that a better understanding of what marriage — and all the sacraments — signify can be found.

             There is, Jesus assures us, no marriage in the life of the resurrection. But neither is there Baptism or the Eucharist. What we are to experience in the resurrection is that towards which Baptism and the Eucharist and Marriage all point: freedom, union, fidelity, and participation in the divine life. In this sense the church itself is a sacrament of the kingdom of God, a bride in the process of preparing for her wedding.

             In a time of betrayal, marriage can be a sacramental sign of commitment. Just as Jesus’ celibacy was an eschatological sign in an era when marriage was the norm, so faithful marriage can be an eschatological sign in an era when transient and casual relationships (that falsely usurp the name of marriage) are the norm. Same-sex marriage offers a way for all marriage to discover its power as such a sign, to be more than the blessing of a cultural norm, by shattering the last taboo, by tearing down the last of the three dualities Paul promised would be destroyed in Christ: the racist dualism of Jew and Gentile, the social dualism of slave and free, and the sexual dualism of male and female.

             For marriage to take on the function of eschatological sign will mean some considerable reevaluation of marriage practice in the church, some of it difficult, much of it painful. Same-sex marriage will call the church to place even higher standards on what is expected of those who marry with the church’s blessing. For the traditional “ends” or “purposes” of marriage will no longer be adequate, in whatever order they are placed. As long as the marital relationship is seen in terms of a “marriage debt” or the jus ad corpus, “the right to the use of the body of the spouse” (Webber 100) — standard concepts of the essence of marriage in the middle ages and not uncommon today, though going by different names — marriage will be a matter of commerce rather than a sign of the kenotic self-giving of Christ. So long as marriage is seen in terms of ends, as a means achieve to those ends; so long as marriage is seen as something with a purpose, marriage will be cursed with the nature of contract, rather than blessed with the freedom of covenant.

The role of “covenant” in a marriage theology

If love depends on some thing, and the thing passes away, the love passes away too; but if it does not depend on some thing it will never pass away. Which love depended on some thing? This was the love of Amnon and Tamar. And which did not depend on some thing? This was the love of David and Jonathan. (Mishnah Avot 5.16)

Covenant is — at its purest Footnote — exactly that sort of living and loving that we would hope marriage to be: it is not based on any thing except the gift of the self to “the other.” Covenant, unlike contract, is not based on a quid pro quo that looks for goods, results, ends, intentions or purposes, but on a promise to be faithful — to love, honor and cherish, for better, for worse, until death. It is not enough to prioritize or rejuggle the order of goods, ends, or purposes, as does the current Episcopal rite — following the momentous reevaluation of the ends of marriage begun by Pius XI and continued (not without controversy) by Vatican II, and the Lambeth pronouncements of the mid-century and later. Footnote The problem isn’t with the order of the ends but in having ends at all: the supralapsarian bliss of Adam and Eve (in Genesis 2, as opposed to Genesis 1) lies simply and solely in their unity, not their productivity: they find their fulfillment in each other. For this reason, all reference to ends or purposes of marriage should be removed from the rite (as the Episcopal Church did until 1970).

The question of complementarity

It will be asked at this point if a person of the same sex can be an appropriate “other.” Some who oppose same-sex marriage lay great store on the supposed “complementarity” of the sexes (e.g. Stott 14). But such a view “fails to recognize persons of the same gender as distinct other persons” and is

based on a truncated human development for both men and women in which both must remain “half” people who need the other “half” in order to be “whole.” (Ruether 24)

As I have shown in my response to Bishop Fairfield’s dissent from the Righter trial decision, such a notion is both illusory and potentially (and actually) dehumanizing, especially to women. People are not “incomplete” if unmarried, and each individual fully represents the image of God (Haller 1996:17). Footnote Ultimately “complementarity” is based on a theology of deficiency rather than abundance.

             The lesson of Genesis 2 is not that the union of spouses makes them “human,” but that it fulfills the human need for companionship. God allows Adam a subjective response in providing the gift of a “suitable” mate — and Adam finds the human rather than the animal to be suitable: it is Eve’s likeness to him (bone and flesh of his bones and flesh) not her alleged “complementarity” that makes her his suitable companion. This same subjective reception of a suitable partner is necessary in order for consent — and marriage — to be fully realized. Footnote

Who is my neighbor?

It is forbidden for a person to betroth a woman until he sees her, lest he find something repulsive in her and she will become loathsome to him, whereas the All Merciful One ordained: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Lev 19.18) bKiddushin 41a

It might seem odd that the rabbis applied this Levitical command to marriage. However, the Hebrew word reʿa often has erotic and amatory overtones, though its range covers everything from simply “other” through neighbor, friend, “mate” (in every sense of the word) and love-partner. This word and its derivative form rayah are used throughout the Song of Songs for the most intimate and explicitly sexual relationships; moreover, the latter form is the modern Hebrew word for “wife.” (Bokser 171) The lovers in the Song of Songs find their ends and reasons to exist in each other (“my beloved is mine and I am his,” 2.16, 6.3) — and this mutual self-giving is not dependent on their sexual dimorphism.

             Discomfort with the overlap of friendship and erotic love is common. Some have denied the possibility or the wisdom of such an overlap. For example, one of the most glaring flaws in the English Bishops’ statement on sexuality lies in their refusal to recognize or account for the overlap except to dismiss it dogmatically. While acknowledging the wide range of friend and neighbor in former times, they specifically omit the relevant biblical witness to the erotic element in the Song of Songs, and see sex as simply having “no place in friendship.” (IHS §3.12-3.14) While it might well be true that sex has no place in a causal friendship, doesn’t friendship have a place in a marital relationship? The effort to divorce these elements of human companionship and togetherness into discrete categories fails to recognize the complexity of human relationships, and may lead to an impoverishment of conjugal life.

             One other couple in Hebrew Scripture, in addition to the bride and bridegroom of the Song of Songs, are described as having loved with complete selflessness and self-giving: Jonathan loved David Footnote as his very self,” (1 Sam 18.1-4) his nepheš — another word with a wide range of meanings, translated as soul, self or body, the latter in its complete range of meanings from physical body (= corpse) to person as in “somebody.”

             Boswell is incorrect in his statement that this text has “no parallel” except in the most limited sense of verbal equivalence. (Boswell 1994:137n) The soul (nepheš) is used elsewhere in connection with amatory and erotic affection (Gen 34.3,8), and that passage also echoes the role of the spouse’s father in “taking” or “getting” the partner (Gen. 34.4 ≈ 1 Sam 18.2, cp. Gen 2.24!). For our purposes the most significant parallel is the Pauline language in Ephesians — the classic text for marriage as sacrament — describing the intimate self-giving and self-sacrifice of Christ and the church, and husband and wife, echoing Lev 19.18 and prefiguring the passage from bKiddushin cited above:

In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church. (Eph 5.28-29)

It is this partnership of self with other to such a degree that selfhood and otherness is overcome for which marriage is a sacrament and sign. And the sex of the partners is irrelevant to its achievement.

Concluding reflection

There is no doubt that changing the shape of marriage to accommodate persons of the same sex will change the shape of the church. Changing the symbols of our worship can make powerful changes in our lives — what kind of shifts in theology and ecclesiology took place in concert with the return of the chalice to the laity, or the movement from eucharistic loaf to individualized hosts and back again? What is the difference between the dramatic immersion of adults in ancient baptismal rites compared with the parsimonious dripping across the brow of an infant held over a teacup on a stick?

             Same-sex marriage will drive the church to reconsider all of the mixed messages its current marriage rite has been communicating: women (or men) still “given away”; a list of “purposes” laid on as duties where there should be only gift; a bundle of proof-texts barely relevant to the rite at hand — all of this will find itself crumbling as the true foundation of marriage emerges: the consent of two human beings to present themselves to each other in perfect freedom and devotion, as perfect gift; the promise to remain in that relationship unconditionally; and the blessing of the church bestowed in, with, and through all its members. All of this may help to restore the primal reality towards which this sacrament, and all sacraments ultimately point: the love of God in Christ.

             We have come very far from the notion of marriage as a “remedy for fornication.” We are on the boundaries of a new country, a strange country, where unexpected things are likely to happen. But, in the words of W.H. Auden, now enshrined in Hymn 463 of the Episcopal Church’s Hymnal 1979: “at your marriage all its occasions shall dance for joy.” (For the Time Being, 1941-2)

 


Appendices

Appendix: The minority that dare not speak its name

It has become common in recent polemical discussion for conservatives to claim that homosexuality appears only in a small minority of the population, smaller than earlier studies have suggested. This claim is difficult to prove or disprove, for several reasons. How a society (or a survey) decides even what it means to “be homosexual” (whether based on orientation or behavior) may minimize the reported proportion of gay and lesbian people in direct proportion to the negative judgement upon being gay and lesbian within that society.

             Many statistical studies focus solely on sexual behavior, reserve “homosexual” for those who predominantly or exclusively engage in sexual relations with members of the same sex, but then extrapolate to make such statements as, “The rate of homosexuality as a stable life orientation in our culture is certainly not 10 percent [the classic Kinsey study figure]. There is good evidence to suggest that less than 3 percent, and perhaps less than 2 percent, of males are homosexually active in a given year.” (Jones 109f) Jones appears to be unaware that he has made a leap from being “active” to “orientation.” Jones’ definition would not include as “homosexual” the married man who uses “homosexual fantasies to maintain potency” Footnote when having sex with his wife — and, more importantly, neither would the man himself. On the other hand, the celibate monk who is aware of and positive about his homosexuality, might have no difficulty describing himself as “gay” even though not “active,” but he too would not show up on the surveys that base their findings on reported sexual contact.

             There is no way to look into people’s souls, but a recent study that took a look at another portion of the anatomy suggests that homosexuality, broadly understood in the examples I have described, may be more prevalent than Kinsey or Jones’ studies suggest. One small-sample study examined a group of self-identified heterosexual college students, divided into homophobic and non-homophobic groups on the basis of a questionnaire. The study found a strong correlation between anti-gay attitudes and latent homosexuality. The latter was discerned on basis of measuring penile circumference of student test subjects while they watched gay and strait erotic films; over half of the homophobic men exhibited arousal when watching the gay films, compared to less than one-fourth of the non-homophobic control group. Footnote This was the first study of its kind; until further work is done along these lines, statistics on the prevalence of homosexuality will have to be taken with a grain of salt.

             Homophobia in our culture no doubt affects the accuracy of statistics concerning homosexuality (whether estimated at 1 percent or 10 percent of the population). One cannot determine how many people would identify themselves as gay or lesbian in the absence of intense societal pressure against such self-identification. An examination of a different culture might give different results. Aristophanes’ myth in Plato’s Symposium suggests that sexual orientation is evenly divided in the population; this suggestion was made in a culture that did not presume homosexuality to be inferior. Footnote

             A second indicator of the true prevalence of homosexual orientation, or inclination, is the degree to which cultures that oppose it seek means to prevent, change or control it. For example, Pachomian monasticism imposed strict safeguards to minimize instances of gay sex, which suggests that the inclination to engage in such activity, absent these precautions, might have been significant; one does not normally take draconian measures against non-existent problems:

Monks must avoid tempting their brother monks, and must cover their knees when sitting together. [2] They must not tuck up their tunics too high when washing clothes together. [69] Monks must avoid looking at others, whether it be at work [7] or at mealtimes [30]... and must certainly not bathe and apply ointments to a brother. [93] Monks had no opportunity to be alone in pairs [89, 112, 95, 118]... They might not talk to one another in the dark [94] nor hold hands. [114] (Pachomius, Precepts in Rouselle 155-156)

Even when prohibition against homosexual activity is in place in a culture, it sometimes becomes so common as to be virtually “normal.” The British Public School System is but one example, in which, as C.S. Lewis attests in his autobiography, homosexual love, “however great an evil in itself, was, in that time and place the only foothold or cranny left for certain good things” in a “burning desert of competitive ambition.” (Lewis 109) Footnote When such behavior becomes the “norm” for those in control of the society it ceases to be identified by terms reserved for deviants. Those who grew up in this Public School system would adapt it to their adult lives as well. Yet few of these individuals would identify themselves as “homosexual.” As Rosemary Radford Ruether noted,

When we look at this practice of sexuality among ruling-class males, in, say, British upper-class society, it becomes apparent that patriarchy does not rule out either promiscuity or homosexuality... Both are winked at as long as they remain discreet within a public system of heterosexual marriage that will produce legitimate offspring. (Ruether 32)

             A similar phenomenon may be at work in the violent comments made in 1995 by President Mugabe of Zimbabwe, seconded by the Anglican bishop, to the effect that homosexuality was a foreign import designed to corrupt and destroy the African people. Footnote Not only was the Mugabe administration embarrassed this year at the revelations of homosexual liaisons by the former President but, as numerous anthropological studies have shown, homosexual activity among tribal people was not unusual in the past, and in some cases enculturated as part of initiatory rites or societal adaptations: though for that very reason perhaps not seen as “homosexuality.” Footnote Homosexual behavior was not a European import into Africa — the European import, 19th century evangelical Christianity, sought to eradicate these folkways. The martyrdom of the “Martyrs of Uganda” is an example of this clash in cultures and religions, though all sexual references have been omitted from the account in Lesser Feasts and Fasts.

             So the proportion of “homosexual” persons in any given population is almost impossible to determine given the elasticity of the term, and the ability to rationalize or euphemize gay sex out of existence. However, one American study indicates that “more than one in four boys and girls enter adolescence unsure of their sexual identity”; the intense societal pressure that “acculturates all youth to presume they are heterosexual” (CTD 57) may contribute to a functionally heterosexual majority, many of whose members would, mutatis mutandis consider themselves to be gay or lesbian. This is one of the unknowns with which the current discussion is burdened; but it is one of the factors that makes anecdotal and experiential evidence so important.

Appendix: Why not the Orthodox?

The focus in this paper is upon Western rites. The Eastern Church has an very different liturgical and theological understanding of marriage, which it is beyond the scope of this paper fully to explore. Suffice it to say that the reception of the nuptial eucharist (which is not permitted to non-Orthodox) is an essential element in the Orthodox understanding of marriage as a sacrament, in which unitive theology takes precedence over the procreative emphasis typical in the Western tradition (witnessed in the blessing at the nuptial bed.) One might say that the West favors a “Genesis 1 theology” (“be fruitful and multiply”) while the East favors a “Genesis 2 theology” (“it is not good for the man to be alone”). The importance of Baptism and the Eucharist in marriage is reflected in the use of the Cana pericope, water and wine standing for the two great sacraments of unity. Because of this close connection with the Eucharist, the East also disagrees with the West as to the “minister” of the sacrament: in the East it is the priest, not the couple themselves, who finalize the marriage in the eucharistic rite. (Meyendorff 24,26; Stuhlman 100f)

             This might at first appear a promising avenue for same-sex rites (indeed several proposed rites draw on Eastern sources or attempt to graft aspects of Eastern theology onto a Western stock). However, this course is problematical precisely because of its focus on spiritual communion rather than physical relationship. While one certainly hopes that a married couple, of whatever sex, will enjoy spiritual communion, marriage is not, and never has been, the sacrament of spiritual union that Baptism and the Eucharist have been, for a number of reasons, the most important of which are:

           It is limited to two persons (generally), unlike Baptism and the Eucharist.

           It is an earthly phenomenon rather than a heavenly one, as noted in the discussion of Luke 20.35 (see page 21). The failure to take full account of this marks a distinct weakness in the Eastern tradition, which forbids second marriages (with greater or lesser strictness) even after widowhood, on the grounds that marriage creates an eternal bond; the West has come to take the position that marriage creates a bond that endures “till death do us part”—a view more in keeping with the admittedly slim Biblical witness. While some might welcome this spiritualization as a way to downplay the erotic component of same-sex marriage in a move for greater tolerance, such a course is unlikely to be successful in overcoming opposition.

           While there is an ontological change in a married couple—they “become” spouses—the focus in marriage is on action rather than being. As with religious life, marriage entails vows to act in certain ways, and to refrain from acting in other ways: it is about loving rather than being in love. Marriage is about self-giving in an ongoing, living relationship.

 At some point I hope to pursue a more detailed examination of the Eastern background. For the present, however, and for these reasons, I am not including extensive reference to the Eastern marriage tradition in this paper.

Appendix: Episcopal (and Other) Marriage Rites

In the tables that follow

           citations of Scriptural allusions are indicated in <angle brackets>;

           editorial comments appear in {braces} in a reduced size;

           material appearing out of sequence (for comparison with parallels) appears in «guillemets» and a slightly smaller size.

           Where the text is completely or substantially identical in adjacent columns the text spans (or is centered within) the columns. When the text itself is not sufficient to span the columns, an em-dash (—) at either the beginning or the end of the line will clarify in which direction the spanning should continue.

           In a few cases where a long passage of text is unique to a given version or versions, the columns are dispensed with to conserve space. In all such cases a notation will appear indicating to which version the text belongs.

           Minor variants of not more than short phrases are indicated between vertical lines (“|”) with slash marks (“/”) separating the usage in the versions in the same order as the columns. In such cases, omissions are indicated with underscores (“___”). For example, the deletion of the word “holy” in the King’s Chapel version of the 1662 rite is indicated: “be joined together in |holy / ___| Matrimony...”

           A few insignificant or secondary details (orthography, capitalization, and italicization, spelling errors in the printed editions) have been regularized without comment. For example, the use of “M.” for the woman’s name and “N.” for the man’s in the 1662 rite is not considered substantive for the purpose of the comparisons which follow. The introductory paragraph mark “¶” used with rubrics in some editions is removed, and rubrics printed in small roman type in the 1979 BCP appear in italics here for the sake of consistency.

From 1662 through 1789/90

The first table shows the marriage rite from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England, the 1785 adaptation used at King’s Chapel in Boston, the “Abridgement of the Book of Common Prayer” undertaken by Dashwood and completed by Benjamin Franklin, the proposals presented to the 1785/86 General Conventions, and the version adopted in 1789.

1662 BCP

King’s Chapel 1785

“Franklin” 1773

BCP Proposed 1785/6

BCP 1789/90

THE FORM OF SOLEMNIZATION OF MATRIMONY

MATRIMONY

THE FORM OF SOLEMNIZATION OF MATRIMONY

MATRIMONY

 

 

 

The Laws respecting Matrimony, whether by publishing the Banns in Churches or by Licence, being different in several States; every Minister is left to the Direction of those Laws in every Thing that regards the civil Contract between the Parties.

First the Banns of all that are to be married together must be published in the Church three several Sundays, during the time of Morning Service, or of Evening Service, (if there be no Morning Service,) immediately after the second Lesson; the Curate saying after the accustomed manner,

First the Banns of those who are to be married, may be published in the Church three several Sundays or Holy days,








in this manner:—

First the Banns of all that are to be married together must be published in the Church three several Sundays or Holydays in the time of Divine Service, immediately before the Sentences for the Offertory; the Curate saying after the accustomed manner,

 

And when the Banns are published,











it shall be in the following form:

I PUBLISH the Banns of Marriage between M. of ——— and N. of ———. If any of you know cause, or just impediment, why these two persons should not be joined together in |holy / ___ / holy| Matrimony ye are to declare it. This is the first [second, or third] time of asking.

 

I PUBLISH the Banns of Marriage between M. of ——— and N. of ———. If any of you know cause, or just impediment, why these two persons should not be joined together in holy Matrimony ye are to declare it. [This is the first. second, or third time of asking].

And if the persons that are to be married dwell in divers Parishes, the Banns must be asked in both Parishes; and the Curate of the one Parish shall not solemnize Matrimony betwixt them, without a Certificate of the Banns being thrice asked, from the Curate of the other Parish.

 

And if the persons that are to be married dwell in divers Parishes, the Banns must be asked in both Parishes; and the Curate of the one Parish shall not solemnize Matrimony betwixt them, without a Certificate of the Banns being thrice asked, from the Curate of the other Parish.

 

 

At the day and time appointed for solemnization of Matrimony, the persons to be married shall come into the body of the Church



with their friends and neighbours; and there standing together, the Man on the right hand, and the Woman on the left, the Priest shall say,

When



                  the persons to be married are assembled




with their friends,





the Minister shall say,

At the day and time appointed for solemnization of Matrimony, the persons to be married shall come into the body of the Church



with their friends and neighbours; and there standing together, the Man on the right hand, and the Woman on the left, the Priest shall say,

At the day and time appointed for Solemnization of Matrimony,











the Minister shall say to the persons assembled,

At the day and time appointed for Solemnization of Matrimony, the Persons to be married shall come into the Body of the Church,

or shall be ready in some proper house,

with their Friends and Neighbours; and there standing together, the Man on the Right Hand, and the Woman on the Left, the Minister shall say,

DEARLY beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this congregation, to join together this Man and this Woman in holy Matrimony; which is an honourable estate, instituted of God in the time of man's innocency, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church; which holy estate Christ adorned and beautified with his presence, and first miracle that he wrought, in Cana of Galilee; and is commended of Saint Paul to be honourable among all men: and therefore is not by any to be enterprised, nor taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly, to satisfy men's carnal lusts and appetites, like brute beasts that have no understanding; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God; duly considering the causes for which Matrimony was ordained.

DEARLY beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this congregation, to join together this man and this woman in

         matrimony; which is an honourable estate, instituted of God in the time of man's innocency;




which         estate Christ adorned and beautified with his presence, and first miracle that he

wrought in Cana of Galilee; and is commended of Saint Paul to be honourable among all men; and therefore is not by any to be enterprised or taken in hand, lightly or unadvisedly;





but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God.

DEARLY beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this congregation, to join together this Man and this Woman in holy Matrimony; which is an honourable estate,







and which

Christ adorned and beautified with his presence,






                  and therefore is not by any to be

taken in hand unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly,




but

discreetly,

                  and in the fear of God; duly considering the causes for which Matrimony was ordained.

DEARLY beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this congregation, to join together this Man and this Woman in holy Matrimony;

DEARLY beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this company, to join together this Man and this Woman in holy Matrimony; which is














commended of Saint Paul to be honourable among all men: and therefore is not by any to be entered into


unadvisedly or lightly,





but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God.

First, It was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name.

Secondly, It was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ's body.

Thirdly, It was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.

«{The first and third “causes” are expanded upon in the Exhortation after the marriage, below.

First,

For the procreation of children:





Secondly,

For a remedy against sin:








Thirdly,

                  For the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.

 

 

Into which holy estate these two persons present come now to be joined. Therefore

 




Therefore

Into this holy estate these two persons present come now to be joined.

if any man can shew any just cause, why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak, or else hereafter for ever hold his peace.

 

[i/i/I]f any |___ / man / man| can shew any just cause, why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak, or else hereafter for ever hold his peace.

And also, speaking to the persons who are to be married, he shall say,

And|,___ / also| speaking unto the Persons who shall be married, he shall say,

I REQUIRE and charge you both, as ye will answer at the dreadful day of judgement when the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed, that if either of you know any impediment, why ye may not be lawfully |joined / united| together in Matrimony, ye do now confess it. For be ye well assured, that so many as are |coupled / joined| together otherwise than God's Word doth allow

I REQUIRE and charge you both,

that if either of you know any impediment, why ye may not be lawfully joined together in Matrimony, ye do now confess it.

I REQUIRE and charge you both, as ye will answer at the dreadful day of judgement when the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed, that if either of you know any impediment, why ye may not be lawfully joined together in Matrimony, ye do now confess it. For be ye well assured, that |so many as / if any persons| are |coupled / joined| together otherwise than God's Word doth allow

are not joined together by God; neither is their Matrimony lawful.

 

are not joined together by God; neither is their Matrimony lawful.


their marriage is not lawful.

At which day of Marriage, if any man do alledge and declare any impediment, why they may not be coupled together in Matrimony, by God's Law, or the Laws of this Realm; and will be bound, and sufficient sureties with him, to the parties; or else put in a Caution (to the full value of such charges as the persons to be married do thereby sustain) to prove his allegation: then the solemnization must be deferred, until such time as the truth be tried.

 

At which day of Marriage, if any man do allege and declare any impediment, why they may not be coupled together in Matrimony, by God's Law, or the Laws of this Realm; and will be bound, and sufficient sureties with him, to the parties, or else put in a Caution (to the full value of such charges as the persons to be married do thereby sustain) to prove his allegation; then the solemnization must be deferred, until such time as the truth be tried.

 








The Minister, if he shall have reason to doubt of the lawfulness of the proposed Marriage, may demand sufficient surety for his indemnification: but

If no impediment be alledged,


then shall the |Curate / Minister / Curate| say unto the Man,

And if no Impediment be alledged,


then shall the Minister say unto the Man,

if no impediment shall be alleged,

or suspected,

the Minister shall say to the Man,

M. WILT thou have this Woman to thy wedded wife, to live together after God's ordinance in the |holy / ___| estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honour, and keep her in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all other, keep thee only unto her, so long as ye both shall live?

N. WILT thou have this Woman to thy wedded wife, to live together in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honour, and keep her, in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all other, keep thee only unto her, so long as ye both shall live?

M. WILT thou have this Woman to thy wedded wife, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honour, and keep her in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, keep thee only unto her, so long as ye both shall live?

—The man shall answer,

—I will.—

Then shall the |Priest / Minister / Priest| say unto the Woman,

Then shall the Minister say unto the Woman,

N. WILT thou have this Man to thy wedded husband, to live together after God's ordinance in the |holy / ___| estate of Matrimony?

N. WILT thou have this Man to thy wedded husband, to live together in the holy estate of Matrimony?

N. WILT thou have this Man to thy wedded husband, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony?

Wilt thou obey him, and serve him, love,

                     honour,

 Wilt thou

                  love him, comfort him, honour

Wilt thou obey him,

        serve him, love,

                     honour,

Wilt thou obey him, and serve him, love, honour,

and keep him, in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all other, keep thee only unto him, so long as ye both shall live?

The woman shall answer,

—I will.—

—Then shall the Minister say,—

—Who giveth this Woman to be married to this Man?—

Then shall they give their troth to each other in this manner.

Then shall they engage themselves to each other in this manner:

 

 

Then shall they give their Troth to each other in this manner.

The Minister receiving the woman at her father's or friends hands, shall cause the man with his right hand, to take the woman by her right hand,

and to say after him as followeth:

I M. take thee N. to my wedded wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God's holy ordinance,

 

and to say after him as followeth.

I M. take thee N. to my wedded wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God's holy ordinance;



and thereto I plight thee my troth.

and the laws of the land.

 

 



and thereto I plight thee my troth.

Then shall they loose their hands, and the woman with her right hand, taking the man by his right hand, shall likewise say after the Minister:

 

Then shall they loose their hands; and the Woman, with her right hand taking the Man by his right hand, shall likewise say after the Minister,

I N. take thee M. to my wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish,

 

I N. take thee M. to my wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish,

and to obey,

till death us do part, according to God's holy ordinance;



and thereto I give thee my troth.


till death us do part, according to God's holy ordinance,

and the laws of the land.

 

and to obey,

till death us do part, according to God's holy ordinance;


and to obey,

till death us do part, according to God's holy ordinance;



and thereto I give thee my troth.

Then shall they again loose their hands, and the Man shall give unto the Woman a Ring, laying the same upon the book with the accustomed duty to the Priest and Clerk. And the Priest, taking the Ring, shall deliver it unto the Man, to put it upon the fourth finger of the Woman's left hand. And the Man holding the Ring there, and taught by the Priest, shall say,

Then shall they again loose their hands, and the man shall give unto the woman a ring, laying the same upon the book.


And the Minister taking the ring shall deliver it unto the man, to put it upon the fourth finger of the woman's left hand. And the man holding the ring there and taught by the Minister, shall say,


                  and

the Man shall give unto the Woman a Ring, laying the same upon the book with the accustomed duty to the Priest and Clerk. And the Priest, taking the Ring, shall deliver it unto the Man, to put it upon the fourth finger of the Woman's left hand. And the Man holding the Ring there, and taught by the Priest, shall say,

Then shall they again loose their Hands, and the Man shall give unto the Woman a Ring.






And the Minister taking the Ring shall deliver it unto the Man, to put it upon the fourth Finger of the Woman's left Hand. And the Man holding the Ring there and taught by the Minister, shall say,

WITH this Ring I thee wed,

with my body I thee worship,

and with all my worldly goods I thee endow:

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.




Amen.

WITH this ring I thee wed;



and with all my worldly goods I thee endow;




and to thee only do I promise to keep myself, so long as we both shall live. Amen.

WITH this Ring I thee wed,

with my body I thee worship,

and with    my worldly goods I thee endow:







Amen.

WITH this Ring I thee wed;




and with all my worldly goods I thee endow;


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.





Amen.

Then the Man leaving the Ring upon the fourth finger of the Woman's left hand,

they shall both kneel down;

and the Minister shall say,





Then they shall both kneel down,

and the Minister shall say,

Then the Man leaving the Ring upon the fourth finger of the Woman's left hand,

they shall both kneel down;

and the Minister shall say,

Then the Man leaving the Ring upon the Fourth Finger of the Woman's left Hand,





the Minister shall

say,

Let us pray.


Let us pray.

Let us pray.

<Lord’s Prayer>

O ETERNAL God, Creator and Preserver of all mankind, Giver of all spiritual grace, the Author of everlasting life; Send thy blessing upon these thy servants,

O ETERNAL God, Author of everlasting life; Send thy blessing upon

O ETERNAL God, Creator and Preserver of all mankind, Giver of all spiritual grace, the Author of everlasting life; Send thy blessing upon these thy servants,

this man and this woman,

 

this man and this woman,—

whom we bless in thy Name; that, as Isaac and Rebecca lived faithfully together, so these persons may surely perform and keep the vow and covenant betwixt them made, (whereof this Ring given and received is a token and pledge,) and may ever remain in perfect love and peace together, and live according to thy laws; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

whom we bless in thy name.


Enable them to perform the covenant which they have now made in thy presence. May they seriously attend to the duties of the new relation in which they stand to each other; that it may not be to them a state of temptation and sorrow, but of holiness and comfort; may they live together in peace and love; and wilt thou the God of peace and love be always with them, and lead them in the paths of innocence and virtue to eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.






that they may

keep the vow and covenant betwixt them made, (whereof this Ring given and received is a

pledge,) and may ever remain in perfect love and peace together



 Amen.

whom we bless in thy Name; that, as Isaac and Rebecca lived faithfully together, so these persons may surely perform and keep the vow and covenant betwixt them made, (whereof this Ring given and received is a token and pledge,) and may ever remain in perfect love and peace together, and live according to thy laws; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Then shall the |Priest / Minister| join their right hands together, and say,

 

Then shall the Minister join their right hands together, and say,

Those whom God hath joined together let no man put asunder.

 

Those whom God hath joined together let no man put asunder.

Then shall the Minister speak unto the People.

Then shall the Minister speak unto the Company.

FORASMUCH as M. and N. have consented together in holy wedlock, and have witnessed the same before God and this company, and thereto have given and pledged their troth either to other, and have declared the same by giving and receiving of a Ring, and by joining of hands; I pronounce that they be Man and Wife together, In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

Amen.

FORASMUCH as M. and N. have consented together in wedlock; and have witnessed the same before God and this company, and thereto have engaged and pledged themselves to each other, and have declared the same by giving and receiving a ring, and by joining hands; I pronounce

that they be Man and Wife.

FORASMUCH as M. and N. have consented together in holy wedlock, and have witnessed the same before God and this company,







                  I

pronounce that they be Man and Wife.




Amen.

FORASMUCH as M. and N. have consented together in holy wedlock, and have witnessed the same before God and this company, and




have declared the same by giving and receiving of a Ring, and by joining of hands; I pronounce that they be Man and Wife together, In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

FORASMUCH as M. and N. have consented together in holy wedlock, and have witnessed the same before God and this company, and thereto have given and pledged their troth, each to the other, and

have declared the same by giving and receiving of a Ring, and by joining hands; I

pronounce that they are Man and Wife;

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

{The following appears only in the King’s Chapel rite at this point.}

Then shall the Minister say,

<Lord’s Prayer>.

O MERCIFUL God and heavenly Father, who art the guide, the support, and the felicity of all who put their trust in thee; we beseech thee to bless these thy servants, and give them gr ace to fear and serve thee all the days of their life. May their hearts be united in the closest bonds of love and purity; may they be blessings and comforts to one another, sharers of each other's joys, consolers of each other's sorrows, and helpers to one an other in all the changes and chances of the world; and grant that they may so faithfully discharge the duties which belong to the condition into which they have entered, that they and all who may be committed to their care, may meet together in that world of perfect felicity which thou hast revealed to us by Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

And the Minister shall add this Blessing.

Then shall he add this blessing.

 

And the Minister shall add this Blessing.

GOD the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Ghost, bless, preserve, and keep you;

THE Lord God Almighty

             bless, preserve, and keep you;

 

GOD the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Ghost, bless, preserve, and keep you;

the Lord mercifully with his favour look upon you; and so fill you with all spiritual benediction and grace, that ye may so live together in this life, that in the world to come ye may have life everlasting. Amen.

 

the Lord mercifully with his favour look upon you; and fill you with all spiritual benediction and grace, that ye may so live together in this life, that in the world to come ye may have life everlasting. Amen.


{The following occurs only in the 1662 rite.}

Then the Minister or Clerks, going to the Lord's Table, shall say or sing this Psalm following.

<Psalm 128>

Or this Psalm.

<Psalm 67 >

The Psalm ended, and the Man and the Woman kneeling before the Lord's Table, the Priest standing at the Table, and turning his face towards them, shall say, 

<Kyrie>

<Lord’s Prayer> 

Minister. O Lord, save thy servant, and thy handmaid;

Answer. Who put their trust in thee.

Minister. O Lord, send them help from thy holy place;

Answer. And evermore defend them.

Minister. Be unto them a tower of strength,

Answer. From the face of their enemy.

Minister. O Lord, hear our prayer.

Answer. And let our cry come unto thee.


Minister.

O GOD of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, bless these thy servants, and sow the seed of eternal life in their hearts; that whatsoever in thy holy Word they shall profitably learn, they may in deed fulfil the same. Look, O Lord, mercifully upon them from heaven, and bless them. And as thou didst send thy blessing upon Abraham and Sarah. to their great comfort, so vouchsafe to send thy blessing upon these thy servants; that they obeying thy will, and alway being in safety under thy protection, may abide in thy love unto their lives' end; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


This Prayer next following shall be omitted where the Woman is past child-bearing.

MERCIFUL Lord, and heavenly Father, by whose gracious gift mankind is increased; We beseech thee, assist with thy blessing these two persons, that they may both be fruitful in procreation of children, and also live together so long in godly love and honesty, that they may see their children christianly and virtuously brought up, to thy praise and honour; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


GOD, who by thy mighty power hast made all things of nothing; who also (after other things set in order) didst appoint, that out of man (created after shine own image and similitude) woman should take her beginning; and, knitting them together, didst teach that it should never be lawful to put asunder those whom thou by Matrimony hadst made one: O God, who hast consecrated the state of Matrimony to such an excellent mystery, that in it is signified and represented the spiritual marriage and unity betwixt Christ and his Church; Look mercifully upon these thy servants, that both this man may love his wife, according to thy Word. (as Christ did love his spouse the Church, who gave himself for it, loving and cherishing it even as his own flesh,) and also that this woman may be loving and amiable, faithful and obedient to her husband; and in all quietness, sobriety, and peace, be a follower of holy and godly matrons. O Lord, bless them both, and grant them to inherit thy everlasting kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Then shall the Priest say,

ALMIGHTY God, who at the beginning did create our first parents, Adam and Eve, and did sanctify and join them together in marriage; Pour upon you the riches of his grace, sanctify and bless you, that ye may please him both in body and soul, and live together in holy love unto your lives' end. Amen.


1662 BCP (Exhortation after marriage.)

Omissions made in Franklin 1773 are struck out

King’s Chapel 1785 (Exhortation after marriage.)

After which, if there be no Sermon declaring the duties of Man and Wife, the Minister shall read as followeth.

ALL ye that are married, or that intend to take the holy estate of Matrimony upon you, hear what the holy Scripture doth say as touching the duty of husbands towards their wives, and wives towards their husbands:

Saint Paul, in his Epistle to the Ephesians, the fifth Chapter, doth give this commandment to all married men; Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water, by the Word; that he might present it to himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy, and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself: for no man ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the Church: for we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife; and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery; but I speak concerning Christ and the Church. Nevertheless, let every one of you in particular so love his wife, even as himself. <Eph. 5.25-33a>.

Likewise the same Saint Paul, writing to the Colossians, speaketh thus to all men that are married; Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them.<Col. 3.19>.

Hear also what Saint Peter, the Apostle of Christ, who was himself a married man, saith unto them that are married; Ye husbands, dwell with your wives according to knowledge; giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers be not hindered. <1 Pet. 3.7>.

Hitherto ye have heard the duty of the husband toward the wife. Now likewise, ye wives, hear and learn your duties toward your husbands, even as it is plainly set forth in holy Scripture.

Saint Paul, in the aforenamed Epistle to the Ephesians, teacheth you thus; Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the Church: and he is the Saviour of the body. Therefore as the Church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.<Eph. 5.22-24>. And again he saith, Let the wife see that she reverence her husband.<Eph. 5.33b>. And in his Epistle to the Colossians, Saint Paul giveth you this short lesson; Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.<Col. 3.18>.

Saint Peter also doth instruct you very well, thus saying; Ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the Word, they also may without the Word be won by the conversation of the wives; while they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear. Whose adorning, let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible; even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands; even as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord; whose daughters ye are as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement. <1 Pet. 3.1-6>.

It is convenient that the new-married Persons should receive the holy Communion at the time of their Marriage, or at the first opportunity after their Marriage.

Exhortation to the parties after marriage.

IT will become you to consider seriously the sacred and important engagement into which ye have now entered. Marriage was ordained for the continuance of the human kind; and is the union of one man with one woman for their joint happiness, and for the pious education of children, where God gives them: and by the original appointment of God, confirmed by our Saviour (Gen. ii. 24. Matt. xix. 4, 5, 6) this union is to be perpetual, to be dissolved only by death. It was intended by the benevolent Parent of mankind, to be a source of the purest satisfactions, to soften the unavoidable cares, and increase the innocent pleasures if life, by affording opportunities of sharing them with a most intimate friend and partner. By Christians in particular it is to be looked upon as a state of perfect indissoluble friendship, in which ye are to carry your regards for each other beyond the grave, that ye may so live in virtue and holiness here, that ye may live hereafter in that state, where there will be no marrying nor giving in marriage, but ye shall be as the angels in heaven. Study then to correct what is amiss in your respective tempters and dispositions, which may disturb your mutual love and peace. And be severe censors of yourselves, but exact not too much one from another; and bear with each others infirmities, for there is nothing perfect here below. None are faultless but all are to endeavour to become such. Cultivate in yourselves, and in each other, the knowledge and practice of virtue, and true religion, as the only foundation of present comfort and future hopes. Study the scriptures and the precepts and example of Christ, who alone hath the words of eternal life. And be not extravagant in your expectations from the world; for although it abound with many innocent joys and pleasures, yet it is no, nor is intended to be a place of unmixed prosperity and enjoyment, but a transitory scene of trial and improvement for a better and more enduring state.

The other great end of marriage is for the well ordering of families and right education of children. This is a matter of the highest moment. For families are the nurseries and schools, in which the successive generations of men are to be instructed and fitted for their different stations and employments in life, to bear their part and burden in it, to be helpful to others, good citizens, useful magistrates, faithful husbands, virtuous wives, patterns of all that is excellent and worthy in every relation. Of a number of families united, nations are composed: and of all of them together, the whole community of mankind. And as these little seminaries are well tutored and governed, or neglected, kingdoms, nations, and the world, are happy or miserable.

Take heed therefore to set an example of piety and virtue yourselves; and then ye may with authority require those who belong to you, to follow it. Let the God of heaven be publickly acknowledged and worshipped each day in your families. At least let not his name and worship be forgotten in it, on the Lord's day. Keep a strict watch over all who depend upon you; and suffer no vice to go unreproved, or to remain in your house persisted in and unamended. For this would be to encourage it, and put a snare before others. By this domestick care, and godly discipline, ye may be a blessing, to your family, your neighbours, and country: but which is above all to be valued and sought for, ye will be approved by Almighty God, and rank with prophets and apostles in that future world, where we are told, that they who are wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they who turn many to righteousness as the stars forever and ever.

 

From 1892 to 1979

This table includes versions of the marriage rite from the BCP 1892, 1928 and 1979, together with two of the interim proposed rites (1958 and 1970).

BCP 1892

BCP 1928

PBS X Proposed 1958

PBS 24 Proposed 1970

BCP 1979

 

 

HOLY MATRIMONY

Concerning the Service

 

 

Before the Solemnization of any Marriage, the Minister shall have required that the parties sign the following Declaration: We, A.B. and C.D., desiring to receive the blessing of Holy Matrimony in the Church, do solemnly declare that we hold marriage to be a lifelong union of husband and wife as it is set forth in the Form of Solemnization of Holy matrimony in the Book of Common Prayer. We believe it is for the purpose of mutual fellowship, encouragement, and understanding, for the procreation (if it may be) of children, and their physical and spiritual nurture, for the safeguarding and benefit of society. And we do engage ourselves, so far as in us lies, to make our utmost effort to establish this relationship and to seek God’s help thereto.

Christian Marriage is a solemn and public covenant between a man and a woman |___ / in the presence of God|. In the Episcopal Church it is required that one, at least, of the parties must be a baptized Christian; that the ceremony be attested by at least two witnesses; and that the marriage conform to the laws of the State and the canons of this Church.

A priest or a bishop normally presides at the Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage, because such ministers alone have the function of pronouncing the nuptial Blessing, and of celebrating the Holy Eucharist.

When both a bishop and a priest are present and officiating, the bishop should pronounce the Blessing and preside at the Eucharist.

A deacon, or an assisting priest, may deliver the charge, ask for the declaration of intention, read the Gospel, and perform other assisting functions at the Eucharist.

Where it is permitted by civil law that deacons may perform marriages, and no priest or bishop is available, |the / a| deacon may use the service which follows, omitting |only the priestly Blessing, beginning “God the Father, God the Son . . . “ / the nuptial blessing which follows The Prayers.|

It is desirable that |___ / the| Lessons from the Old Testament and the Epistles be read by lay persons |and that the newly married couple present the offerings of Bread and wine at the Offertory / ___|.

In the opening exhortation (at the symbol of N.N.), the full names of the persons to be married are declared. Subsequently, only their Christian names are used.

Additional Directions |and Suggestions may be found / ___ are | on |pages 35-36 / page 437|.

 

 

And when the Banns are published, it shall be in the following form:

 

 

 

 

I publish the Banns of Marriage between N. of ———, and N. of ———. If any of you know cause, or just impediment, why these two persons should not be joined together in holy Matrimony ye are to declare it. This is the first [second, or third] time of asking.

 

 

THE FORM OF SOLEMNIZATION OF MATRIMONY

THE FORM OF SOLEMNIZATION OF MATRIMONY

THE CELEBRATION AND BLESSING OF A MARRIAGE

The Laws respecting Matrimony, whether by publishing the Banns in Churches or by Licence, being different in several States; every Minister is left to the Direction of those Laws in every Thing that regards the civil Contract between the Parties.

{Rubric on licenses and Banns at end of service.}

 

 

 

And when the Banns are published, it shall be in the following form:

 

{Rubric on Banns before service.}

 

 

I PUBLISH the Banns of Marriage between M. of ——— and N. of ———. If any of you know cause, or just impediment, why these two persons should not be joined together in holy Matrimony ye are to declare it. This is the first [second, or third] time of asking.

 

 

 

 

At the day and time appointed for Solemnization of Matrimony,

the Persons to be married shall come into the Body of the Church, or

At the time appointed,

the persons to be married, with their witnesses assemble |with the Minister / ___| in the church or

 

 

if urgent cause require

 

 

shall be ready in some proper house, with their friends and neighbours;

some other appropriate place.

 

During their entrance, a Psalm, Hymn, or Anthem may be sung; or instrumental music may be played.

During their entrance, a hymn, psalm, or anthem may be sung, or instrumental music may be played.

and there standing together, the Man on the right hand, and the Woman on the left, the Minister shall say,

Then the |Presiding Minister / Celebrant|, facing the People and the persons to be married, with the woman |on his / to the| right and the man |on his / to the| left, addresses the congregation and says

DEARLY beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this company to join together this Man and this Woman in holy Matrimony; which is an honourable estate,


instituted of God |in the time of man’s innocency / ___|,

signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church: which holy estate Christ adorned and beautified with his presence and first miracle that he wrought in Cana of Galilee,



and is commended of Saint Paul to be honourable among all men:

|Good people, / Dearly beloved:| we have come together in the presence of God to witness and |proclaim / bless| the joining together of this man and this woman in |marriage / Holy Matrimony|. The bond |___ / and covenant| of marriage was established by God at creation, and our Lord Jesus Christ |himself / ___| adorned this manner of life by his presence and first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. It signifies to us the |___ / mystery of the| union between Christ and his Church, and Holy Scripture commends it to be honored among all |men / people|.








and therefore is not by any to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly,

but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God.

The union of |man and woman / husband and wife| in heart, body, and mind is intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity; and, when it is God's will, for the procreation of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord. Therefore marriage is not to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly, but reverently, deliberately, and in accord with the purposes for which it was instituted by God.

Into this holy estate these two persons present come now to be joined.

Into this holy union N.N. and N.N. now come to be joined.

If any man can show just cause, why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak, or else hereafter for ever hold his peace.

If any of you can show just cause why they may not lawfully be married, speak now, or |___ / else| for ever hold your peace.

And also speaking unto the Persons who are to be married, he shall say,

Then the |Minister / Celebrant| says to the persons to be married

I REQUIRE and charge you both, as ye will answer at the |dreadful / dread| day of judgment when the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed, that if either of you know any impediment, why ye may not be lawfully joined together in Matrimony, ye do now confess it. For be ye well assured, that if any persons are joined together otherwise than as God's Word doth allow their marriage is not lawful.

I require and charge you both, |in the Name / here in the presence| of God, that if either of you know any reason why you may not be united in marriage lawfully and in accordance with God's Word, you confess it now.

 

 

 

The Declaration of Consent

{Note the reversal of order, woman first, then man}

The Minister, if he shall have reason to doubt of the lawfulness of the proposed Marriage, may demand sufficient surety for his indemnification: but if no impediment shall be alleged, or suspected, the Minister shall say to the Man,


If no impediment be alleged or suspected, the Minister shall say to the Man,




The Minister then says to the man




The Celebrant says to the woman

M. WILT thou have this Woman to thy wedded wife, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honour, and keep her in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, keep thee only unto her, so long as ye both shall live?

N., Will you have this woman to be your wife, to live together in

                  a holy marriage? Will you love her, comfort her, honor and keep her, in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others, be faithful to her as long as you both shall live?

N., will you have this man to be your husband; to live together in the covenant of marriage? Will you love him, comfort him, honor and keep him, in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, be faithful to him as long as you both shall live?

The Man shall answer,

The man answers

The Woman answers

I will.

I will by God’s help.

I will.

Then shall the Minister say unto the Woman,

The Minister then says to the woman

The Celebrant says to the man

N. WILT thou have this Man to thy wedded husband, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou obey him, and serve him, love,

                  honour,

and keep him in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, keep thee only unto him, so long as ye both shall live?

N. WILT thou have this Man to thy wedded husband, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou

love him, comfort him, honour, and keep him in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, keep thee only unto him, so long as ye both shall live?

N., Will you have this man to be your husband to live together in

                  a holy marriage? Will you love him, comfort him, honor and keep him in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others, be faithful to him as long as you both shall live?

N., will you have this woman to be your wife; to live together in the covenant of marriage? Will you love her, comfort her, honor and keep her, in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, be faithful to her as long as you both shall live?

—The Woman shall answer,—

The woman answers

The Man answers

—I will.—

I will by God’s help.

I will.

 

 

The Minister address the following question to the wedding party and congregation:

The Celebrant then addresses the congregation, saying

 

 

Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support and uphold this marriage in the years ahead?

Will all of you witnessing these promises do all in your power to uphold these two persons in their marriage?

 

 

Answer We will.

People We will.

 

 

 

If there is to be a presentation or a giving in marriage, it takes place at this time. See page 437.

Then shall the Minister say,

Then may the Minister say,

Here the Minister may ask

«After the Declaration of Consent, if there is to be a giving in marriage, or presentation, the Celebrant asks. »

Who giveth this Woman to be married to this Man?

Who gives this woman to be married to this man?


The father, or a friend, says





I do.

«Who gives (presents) this woman to be married to this man?


or the following


Who presents this woman and this man to be married to each other?


To either question, the appropriate answer is, “I do.” If more than one person responds, they do so together.»

 

 

Then the Minister, followed by the Man and the Woman, may go to the Lord’s Table; while there may be sung a Psalm, Hymn, or Anthem.

The Minister receives the woman at her father’s or friend’s hand and causes the man to take the woman’s right hand in his.

A hymn, psalm, or anthem may follow.

 

 

 

 

The Ministry of the Word

 

 

 

The |presiding Minister / Celebrant| then says to the people

 

 

 

The Lord be with you.

 

 

 

Answer And also with you.

People And also with you.

 

«The Communion

The Collect



O ETERNAL God,





we humbly beseech thee, favourably to behold these thy servants now (or about to be) joined in wedlock according to thy holy ordinance; and grant that they, seeking first thy kingdom and thy righteousness, may obtain the manifold blessings of thy grace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.»

Let us pray.

The Collect

The People standing

Eternal God, creator and sustainer of all men, giver of all grace, author of salvation: Look with favor upon this man and this woman, that they may grow in love and peace together; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Let us pray.



O gracious and everliving God, you have created us male and female in your image: Look mercifully upon this man and this woman who come to you seeking your blessing, and assist them with your grace, that with true fidelity and steadfast love they may honor and keep the promises and vows they make; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

 

 

Then one or more of the following passages from Holy Scripture is read. If there is to be a Communion, a passage from the Gospels |is always included / always concludes the Readings| .

 

 

 

The Lesson



Genesis 2:4-9, 15-24

Genesis 1:26-28 (Male and female he created them)

Genesis 2:4-9,15-24 (A man cleaves to his wife and they become one flesh)

Song of Solomon 2:10-13;8:6-7 (Many waters cannot quench love)

Tobit 8:5b-8 (New English Bible) (That she and I may grow old together)

 

«The Epistle.







Ephesians 5 v.20 <Eph. 5.20-33>»

{The order of listing is altered here for comparison}

1 Corinthians 13




Ephesians 5:20-33



Colossians 3:12-17




1 John 4:7-16

1 Corinthians 13:1-13 (Love is patient and kind)

Ephesians 3:14-19 (The Father from whom every family is named)

Ephesians 5:1-2,21-33 (Walk in love, as Christ loved us)

Colossians 3:12-17 (Love which binds everything together in harmony)

1 John 4:7-16 (Let us love one another for love is of God)

 

 

 

Between the Readings, Psalm 128, 113, or 100, or some other Psalm, Hymn, or Anthem may be sung or said.

Between the Readings, a Psalm, hymn, or anthem may be sung or said. Appropriate Psalms are 67, 127, and 128.


When a passage from the Gospel is to be read, all stand, and the Deacon or Minister appointed says


The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to ________.

People Glory to you, Lord Christ.

 

« The Gospel.


 St. Matthew xix.4 <Matt. 19.4-6> »

The Gospel



Matthew 5:13-16



Matthew 7:21,24-29




Mark 10:6-9




John 15:11-17


Matthew 5:1-10 (The Beatitudes)

Matthew 5:13-16 (You are the light ... Let your light so shine)

Matthew 7:21,24-29 (Like a wise man who built his house upon the rock)

Mark 10:6-9,13-16 (They are no longer two but one)

John 15:9-12 (Love one another as I have loved you)

 

 

 

 

After the Gospel, the Reader says


The Gospel of the Lord.

People Praise to you, Lord Christ.

 

 

 

After the Readings (or after the homily if there is one, the Service continues with

A homily or other response to the Readings may follow.

 

 

 

THE MARRIAGE

The Marriage

Then shall they give their Troth to each other in this manner. The Minister, receiving the Woman at her Father's or Friend's hands, shall cause the Man with his Right Hand to take the Woman by her Right Hand, and to say |after him / ___| as followeth.

All stand, and the man facing the woman, and taking her right hand in his, says

The Man, facing the woman and taking her right hand in his, says

I M. take thee N. to my wedded Wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God's holy ordinance; and thereto I plight thee my Troth.

|___ / In the Name of God,| I, N., take you, N., to be my wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death. This is my solemn vow

Then shall they loose their hands; and the Woman, with her Right Hand taking the Man by his Right Hand, shall likewise say after the Minister:

Then shall they loose their hands; and the Woman, with her right hand taking the Man by his right hand, shall likewise say after the Minister:

Then they loose their hands, and the Woman, still facing the man, takes his right hand in hers, and says

I N. take thee M. to my wedded Husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish, |and to obey, / ___ / ___ | till death us do part, according to God's holy ordinance; and thereto I give thee my Troth.

|___ / In the Name of God,| I, N., take you, N., to be my husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death. This is my solemn vow.

Then shall they again loose their Hands, and the Man shall give unto the Woman a Ring.

They loose their hands.

The |Minister / Priest| may ask God's blessing on a ring or rings as follows

 

; and the Woman may likewise give a Ring unto the Man. And the minister, receiving the Ring or Rings, may say,

 

 

 

BLESS, O Lord, this Ring (these Rings), that both the giver and wearer may abide in thy peace and continue in thy favour, unto their life’s end; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Bless, O Lord, this ring that he who gives it and she who wears it may live in your peace, and continue in your favor, all the days of their life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Bless, O Lord, this ring to be a sign of the vows by which this man and this woman have bound themselves to each other; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

|And / on this wise:| the Minister taking the Ring shall deliver it unto the Man, to put it upon the fourth finger of the Woman's Left Hand. And the Man holding the Ring there and taught by the Minister, shall say,



Then, the giver of the Ring shall take the same, and put it upon the fourth finger of the left hand of the other party; and holding it there, and taught by the minister, shall say,



The giver places the ring on the ring-finger of the other's hand and says

WITH this Ring I thee wed, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow: In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

WITH this Ring I thee wed:



           In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

N., I give you this ring as a symbol of my vow, and with all that I am, and all that I have, I honor you, in the Name of |God / the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit (or in the Name of God)|.

 

And, before delivering the Ring to the Man, the Minister may say as followeth.

«Transposed to before the giving of Rings.»

 

 

 

BLESS, O Lord, this Ring, that he who gives it and she who wears it may abide in thy peace, and continue in thy favour, unto their life's end; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

Then the |Minister / Celebrant| joins the right hands of |the / ___| husband and wife and says

 

 

Now that N. and N. have given themselves to each other by solemn vows, with the joining of hands and the giving and receiving of a ring |(or rings) / ___|, I pronounce that they are husband and wife, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.


Those whom God has joined together let |not man / no one| put asunder.

|The Congregation responds / People| Amen.

Then the Man leaving the Ring upon the fourth Finger of the Woman's Left Hand, the Minister shall say,

 

 

 

 

 

When Communion is to follow, the Service continues on page 33.

When there is no Communion, the service continues on the following page.

 

 

 

The Benediction

THE BLESSING OF THE MARRIAGE

The Prayers

Let us pray.

Minister. Let us pray.

|The Minister says / All standing, the Celebrant says|

Let us pray together in the words our Savior taught us.

 

Then shall the Minister and the People, still standing, say the Lord's Prayer.

Standing, all say

People and Celebrant

<Lord’s Prayer>

<Lord’s Prayer>

Then shall the Minister |add / say|,

<Lord’s Prayer {contemporary language only}>

{Note: from this point the options presented follow the form appointed if the Eucharist follows. Prayers said by the presiding Minister (omitted here) substantially duplicate the intercessions which follow.}

<Lord’s Prayer {two versions}>

If Communion is to follow, the Lord's Prayer may be omitted here.

 

AT THE EUCHARIST: THE BLESSING OF THE MARRIAGE


For the Intercessions, the Deacon of other person appointed says

The Deacon or other person appointed reads the following prayers, to which the People respond, saying, Amen.



If there is not to be a Communion, one or more of the prayers may be omitted.

Let us pray.

O ETERNAL God, Creator and Preserver of all mankind, Giver of all spiritual grace, the Author of everlasting life; Send thy blessing upon these thy servants, this man and this woman, whom we bless in thy Name; that

Almighty God, in whom we live and move and have our being: Look graciously upon the world which you have made, and on the Church for which your Son gave his life; and especially on all whom you make to be one flesh in holy marriage:

Eternal God, creator and preserver of all life, author of salvation, and giver of all grace: Look with favor upon the world you have made, and for which your Son gave his life, and especially upon this man and this woman whom you make one flesh in Holy Matrimony. Amen.

, as Isaac and Rebecca lived faithfully together, so these persons

they, living faithfully together,

 

 

may surely perform and keep the vow and covenant betwixt them made, (whereof |this Ring / this Ring / this Ring| given and received is a token and pledge,) and may ever remain in perfect love and peace together, and live according to thy laws; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

Give them wisdom and devotion in the ordering of their common life, that each may be to the other a strength in need, a counselor in perplexity, a comfort in sorrow, and a companion in joy. Amen.


Grant that their wills may be so knit together in your will, and their spirits in your Spirit, that they may grow in love and peace with you and one another all the days of their life. Amen.


Give them grace, when they hurt each other, to recognize and acknowledge their fault, and to seek each other's forgiveness and yours. Amen.

 

 

Grant that their lives together may be a sacrament of your love to this broken world, so that unity may overcome estrangement, forgiveness heal guilt, and joy overcome despair. Amen.

Make their life together a sign of Christ's love to this sinful and broken world, that unity may overcome estrangement, forgiveness heal guilt, and joy conquer despair. Amen.

 

 

Grant that N. and N. may so live together, that the strength of their love may enrich our common life and become an example of your faithfulness. Amen

 

 

The Minister may add one or both of the following prayers.

The following suffrage may be omitted:

 

 

O ALMIGHTY God, Creator of mankind, who only art the well-spring of life; Bestow upon these thy servants, if it be thy will, the gift and heritage of children; and grant that they may see their children brought up in thy faith and fear, to the honour and glory of thy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Grant that they may have children, if it be your will, and may bring them up by your help to know and love you. Amen.

[Bestow on them, if it is your will, the gift and heritage of children, and the grace to bring them up to know you, to love you, and to serve you. Amen.]

 

 

|Grant / Give| them such fulfillment of their mutual affection that they may reach out in love and concern for others. Amen.


Grant that all married persons who have witnessed |this exchange of / these| vows may find their |union / lives| strengthened and their |loyalty / loyalties| confirmed. Amen.

 

 

Grant that the bonds of our common humanity, which unite every man to his neighbor,

                  and the living to the dead, may be transformed by your grace, that justice and peace may prevail and your will may done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

Grant that the bonds of our common humanity, by which all your children are united one to another, and the living to the dead, may be so transformed by your grace,

                  that your will may be done on earth as it is in heaven; where, O Father, with your Son and the Holy Spirit, you live and reign in perfect unity, now and for ever. Amen.

 

 

 

The Blessing of the Marriage

 

 

Then, while the congregation remains standing, the husband and wife kneel, and the Priest says the following prayer:

The people remain standing. The husband and wife kneel, and the Priest says one of the following prayers

 

{This prayer appears only in the 1979 rite.}

Most gracious God, we give you thanks for your tender love in sending Jesus Christ to come among us, to be born of a human mother, and to make the way of the cross to be the way of life. We thank you, also, for consecrating the union of man and woman in his Name. By the power of your Holy Spirit, pour out the abundance of your blessing upon this man and this woman. Defend them from every enemy. Lead them into all peace. Let their love for each other be a seal upon their hearts, a mantle about their shoulders, and a crown upon their foreheads. Bless them in their work and in their companionship; in their sleeping and in their waking; in their joys and in their sorrows; in their life and in their death. Finally, in your mercy, bring them to that table where your saints feast for ever in your heavenly home; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


or this

 

O GOD, who hast so consecrated the state of Matrimony


that in it is represented the spiritual marriage and unity betwixt Christ and his Church;


Look mercifully upon these thy servants,



that they may love, honour, and cherish each other, and so live together in faithfulness and patience, in wisdom and true godliness,



that their home may be a haven of blessing and of peace;

O God, who consecrated the state of Marriage

to be a sign of the spiritual unity between Christ and his Church; Bless these your servants,


that they may love, honor, and cherish each other in faithfulness and patience, in wisdom and true godliness, and that their home may be a haven of blessing and peace;

O God, you have so consecrated the covenant of marriage that in it is represented the spiritual unity between Christ and his Church: Send therefore your blessing upon these your servants, that they may so love, honor, and cherish each other in faithfulness and patience, in wisdom and true godliness, that their home may be a haven of blessing and peace;

 

through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Then shall the Minister join their Right Hands together, and say,

«Then the |Minister / Celebrant| joins the right hands of |the / ___| husband and wife and says»

Those whom God hath joined together let no man put asunder.

«Those whom God has joined together let |not man / no one| put asunder.»

Then shall the Minister speak unto the Company.

 

 

FORASMUCH as M. and N. have consented together in holy wedlock, and have witnessed the same before God and this company, and thereto have given and pledged their troth, each to the other, and have declared the same by giving and receiving of |a Ring / a Ring / a Ring|, and by joining hands; I pronounce that they are Man and Wife; In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

«Now that N. and N. have given themselves to each other by solemn vows, with the joining of hands and the giving and receiving of a ring |(or rings) / ___|, I pronounce that they are husband and wife, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.»


And the Minister shall add this Blessing:

The Man and Wife kneeling, the Minister shall add this Blessing.

The Husband and Wife kneeling, a Priest shall add this Blessing.

The husband and wife still kneeling, the Priest pronounces this nuptial Blessing

The husband and wife still kneeling, the Priest adds this blessing

GOD the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Ghost, bless, preserve, and keep you; The Lord mercifully with his favour look upon you; and fill you with all spiritual benediction and grace; that ye may so live together in this life, that in the world to come ye may have life everlasting. Amen.

God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, bless, preserve, and keep you; the Lord mercifully with his favor look upon you, and fill you with all spiritual benediction and grace; that you may faithfully live together in this life, and in the age to come have life everlasting. Amen.

 

 

 

The Peace is then exchanged.

{When there is no eucharist, the rubric reads}

«The Peace may now be exchanged.»


«{From additional directions:} At the Peace, the newly married couple shall first greet each other, after which greetings may be exchanged throughout the congregation.»



« As the wedding party leaves the Church, a Psalm, Hymn or Anthem may be sung; or instrumental music may be played.»

The Peace

The Celebrant may say to the people

The peace of the Lord be always with you.

People And also with you.

The newly married couple then greet each other, after which greeting may be exchanged throughout the congregation.

When Communion is not to follow, the wedding party leaves the church. A hymn, psalm, or anthem may be sung, or instrumental music may be played.

 

 

Here, except when there is a Communion, the Minister may dismiss the Congregation as follows, saying

«One of the Ministers may dismiss the Congregation.»

 

 

 

{The following appears only in the 1958 proposed revision}

The Lord be with you.

Answer. And with thy spirit.

Minister. Let us pray.

ALMIGHTY God, our heavenly Father, who settest the solitary in families; We commend to thy continual care the homes in which thy people dwell. Put far from them, we beseech thee, every root of bitterness, the desire of vain-glory, and the pride of life. Fill them with faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness. Knit together in constant affection those who, in holy wedlock, have been made one flesh; turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to the fathers; and so inkindle fervent charity among us all, that we be evermore kindly affectioned with brotherly love; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

<Aaronic blessing>

 

 

 

{The following appears in this position in the 1958 proposed revision. The Collect and Readings appear on page 267 of the 1928 BCP}

The Communion

The Collect

O ETERNAL God, we humbly beseech thee, favourably to behold these thy servants now (or about to be) joined in wedlock according to thy holy ordinance; and grant that they, seeking first thy kingdom and thy righteousness, may obtain the manifold blessings of thy grace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Epistle. Ephesians v.20

<Eph. 5.20-33>

The Gospel. St. Matthew xix.4

<Matt. 19.4-6>

 

 

 

 

 


The Liturgy continues with the Offertory.

«{From additional directions:} At the Offertory it is desirable that the bread and wine be offered to the Ministers by the newly married persons.»

At the Eucharist

The liturgy continues with the Offertory, at which the newly married couple may present the offerings of bread and wine.

{See also Additional Directions.}



 

 

 

The following Proper Preface may be used at the Eucharist

Because you have ordained the solemn covenant of love between husband and wife as a witness of the union of your son Jesus Christ with the holy fellowship of all faithful people:

Preface of Marriage


«Because in the love of wife and husband, you have given us an image of the heavenly Jerusalem, adorned as a bride for her bridegroom, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who loves her and gave himself for her, that he might make the whole creation new.»

{The 1979 rite concludes in this way.}

At the Communion, it is appropriate that the newly married couple receive Communion first, after the ministers.

In place of the usual postcommunion prayer, the following is said


O God, the giver of all that is true and lovely and gracious: We give you thanks for binding us together in these holy mysteries of the Body and Blood of your Son Jesus Christ. Grant that by your Holy Spirit, N. and N., now joined in Holy Matrimony, may become one in heart and soul, live in fidelity and peace, and obtain those eternal joys prepared for all who love you; for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

As the wedding party leaves the church, a hymn, psalm, or anthem may be sung; or instrumental music may be played.

{Notice concerning licences and Banns at the beginning.}

The laws respecting Matrimony, whether by publishing the Banns in Churches, or by Licence, being different in the several States, every Minister is left to the direction of those laws, in every thing that regards the civil contract between the parties.


And when the Banns are published, it shall be in the following form: I publish the Banns of Marriage between N. of—, and N. of—. If any of you know cause, or just impediment, why these two persons should not be joined together in holy Matrimony, ye are to declare it. This is the first [second or third] time of asking.

{Equivalent moved prior to rite.}

Additional Directions

Additional Directions {include}












If Banns are to be published, the following form is used

I publish the Banns of Marriage between N.N. of ——— and N.N. of ———. If any of you know just cause why they may not be joined together in Holy Matrimony, you are bidden to declare it. This is the first (or second, or third) time of asking.

 

 

 

. . .

At the Offertory it is desirable that the bread and wine be offered to the Ministers by the newly married persons.

. . .

At the Offertory, it is desirable that the bread and wine be presented to the ministers by the newly married persons.

 


Works Consulted or Cited

Note: Certain classical, Rabbinic, and patristic texts are cited in this paper by their traditional chapter and section designations. The same is true for such works as Hooker’s Laws. Works cited only as “see ...” references are not included in this bibliography, as full information is given in the notes. Names with a dagger (†) are pseudonymous.

Adams, Marilyn McCord. “Hurricane Spirit, Toppling Taboos,” in OS 129-141.

Benedict†, Carol E. ***Charles E. Bennison***Rethinking Marriage—Again: Liturgical and Pastoral Considerations regarding the Blessing of Same-Sex Unions for the Second National Consultation of Episcopalians on the Blessing of Same-Sex Unions. Unpublished address at the College of Preachers, July 1996.

Bokser, Ben Zion. The Talmud: Selected Writings. New York: Paulist Press, 1989.

Boswell, John. Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1980.

—————. Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe. New York: Villard Books, 1994.

Boyarin, Daniel. Carnal Israel; Reading Sex in Talmudic Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

Brundage, James A. Law, Sex, and Christian Society in Medieval Europe. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1987.

Burr, Chandler. “Homosexuality and Biology,” in Siker 116-134.

Cahill, Lisa Sowle. “Homosexuality: A Case Study in Moral Argument,” in Siker 61-75.

Cowley Sermons 2. Cambridge, Mass.: Society of St. John the Evangelist, 1983.

Cross, F.L., ed. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. London: Oxford University Press, 1971.

[CSSU 1996] Report of the Second Consultation of Episcopalians on Same-Sex Unions. Circulated in manuscript; draft dated October 19, 1996.

[CTD] House of Bishops of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. Continuing the Dialogue: A Pastoral Teaching of the House of Bishops to the Church as the Church Considers Issues of Human Sexuality. Cincinnati: Forward Movement, 1995.

Culbertson, Philip. New Adam: The Future of Male Spirituality. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992.

Dover, K.J. Greek Homosexuality. New York: Vintage Books, a Division of Random House, 1980.

[EJ] Encyclopedia Judaica. Jerusalem: Keter Publishing House Ltd., 1971.

Elmen, Paul, ed. The Anglican Moral Choice. Harrisburg: Morehouse Publishing, 1983.

Ervin, Spencer. An Introduction to Anglican Polity. Ambler, Penn.: Trinity Press, 1964.

Eskridge, William N., Jr. The Case for Same-Sex Marriage: From Sexual Liberty to Civilized Commitment. New York, London, etc.: The Free Press, 1996.

Goldin, Hyman E. Hebrew Criminal Law and Procedure: Mishnah Sanhedrin — Makkot. New York: Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1952.

Gramick, Jeannine, ed. Homosexuality in the Priesthood and the Religious Life. New York: Crossroad, 1989.

Graves, Robert and Raphael Patai. Hebrew Myths: The Book of Genesis. New York: Greenwich House, 1983.

Greenburg, David F. The Construction of Homosexuality. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1988.

Haller, Tobias S. “Letter on David and Jonathan,” The Voice of Integrity (IV:3) Summer 1994, 10-11.

—————. “A Response to Fairfield on Genesis,” The Voice of Integrity (VI:3) Summer 1996, 7-33.

Halperin, David M. One Hundred Years of Homosexuality: And Other Essays on Greek Love. New York: Routledge, 1990.

Hasbany, Richard, ed. Homosexuality and Religion. New York: Harrington Park Press, 1989.

Hatchett, Marion J. The Making of the First American Book of Common Prayer: 1776-1789. New York: The Seabury Press, 1982.

Hefling, Charles. “By Their Fruits: A Traditionalist Argument,” in OS 157-174.

Hertz, J.H. The Pentateuch and Haftorahs. London: Soncino Press, 1965.

Hood, Robert E. Social Teachings in the Episcopal Church: A Source Book. Harrisburg, Pa.: Morehouse Publishing, 1990.

Horner, Tom. Jonathan Loved David: Homosexuality in Biblical Times. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1978.

[HSCF] Division for Church in Society, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Human Sexuality and the Christian Faith: A Study for the Church’s Reflection and Deliberation, Episcopal Edition. Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 1991.

[IHS] House of Bishops of the General Synod of the Church of England. Issues in Human Sexuality. Harrisburg, Penn.: Morehouse Publishing, 1991.

[J] Journal of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, with year of meeting added.

John, Jeffrey. “Permanent, Faithful, Stable”: Christian Same-Sex Partnerships. London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1993, for Affirming Catholicism.

Jones, Stanton L. and Don E. Workman. “Homosexuality: The Behavioral Sciences and the Church,” in Siker 93-115.

Kavanagh, Aidan. On Liturgical Theology. Collegeville, Minn.: The Liturgical Press, 1984.

Knoor†, J. “Letter to J. Allegheny†,” manuscript of July 1996.*** Jean Campbell, OSH to Jane Garrett.***

Lawler, Michael G. Marriage and Sacrament: A Theology of Christian Marriage. Collegeville, Minn.: The Liturgical Press, 1993.

Lewis, C.S. Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Years. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1955.

Marshall, Paul V. “Pastoral Letter to the Diocese of Bethlehem.” Bethlehem, Penn., November 1996.

McCarter, P. Kyle, Jr. I Samuel: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Garden City: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1980. (The Anchor Bible 8).

—————. II Samuel: A New Translation with Introduction, Notes and Commentary. Garden City: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1984. (The Anchor Bible 9).

McGarvey, William. Liturgiae Americanae or The Book of Common Prayer as Used in The United States of America Compared with the Proposed Book of 1786 and with the Prayer Book of The Church of England, and an Historical Account and Documents. Philadelphia: The Philadelphia Church Publishing Company, 1907.

Meyendorff, John. Marriage: An Orthodox Perspective. Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1970.

Neuner, J, S.J., and J. Dupuis, S.J., eds. The Christian Faith in the Documents of the Catholic Church. New York: Alba House, 1982.

Neusner, Jacob. Song of Songs Rabbah: An Analytical Translation, Volume Two — Chapters Four through Eight. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1989.

Oliver, Juan M.C. “Why Gay Marriage?” in The Journal of Men’s Studies, Vol 4, No. 3., February 1996, 209-224.

[OS] Hefling, Charles, ed. Our Selves, Our Souls and Bodies: Sexuality and the Household of God. Cambridge, Mass.: Cowley Publications, 1996.

[PBS] Standing Liturgical Commission. Prayer Book Studies X: The Solemnization of Matrimony. New York: The Church Pension Fund, 1958. Prayer Book Studies 24: Pastoral Offices. New York: The Church Hymnal Corporation, 1970. Indicated by “PBS” with volume number.

Plaut, W. Gunther, ed. The Torah: A Modern Commentary. New York: Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1981.

Pope, Marvin H. Job. Garden City: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1965. (The Anchor Bible 15).

—————. Song of Songs: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Garden City: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1977. (The Anchor Bible 7C).

Rad, Gerhard von. Genesis: A Commentary. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1972 (Second Edition, Revised).

Rouselle, Aline. Porneia: On Desire and the Body in Antiquity. Translated by Felicai Pheasant. Oxford: Basil Blackwell Ltd., 1988.

Ruether, Rosemary Radford. “Homophobia, Heterosexism, and Pastoral Practice,” in Gramick, 21-25

Scanzoni, Letha and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott. Is the Homosexual My Neighbor? Another Christian View. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1978/

Schmidt, Alvin John. Veiled and Silenced: How Culture Shaped Sexist Theology. Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1989.

Scroggs, Robin. The New Testament and Homosexuality: Contextual Background for Contemporary Debate. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983.

Sedgwick, Timothy F. “The Transformation of Sexuality and the Challenge of Conscience,” in OS, 27-42.

Siker, Jeffrey S., ed. Homosexuality in the Church: Both Sides of the Debate. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994.

[SLC 1997] Standing Liturgical Commission. “Report to the General Convention on the Blessing of Same-Sex Relationships,” in The Blue Book 1997. Includes a Minority Report by Bishops Ball, Duvall, and Frey. For this paper the electronic version of the report posted on the Episcopal Church web site was used, the printed edition not yet being available; for this reason section and paragraph numbers are used for reference rather than page numbers; and the proviso that only the printed version is “official” is noted.

Smith, Harmon L. “Contraception and Natural Law: A Half-Century of Anglican Moral Reflection” in Elmen 181-200.

Speiser, E.A. Genesis. Garden City: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1964. (The Anchor Bible 1).

Stevick, Daniel B. Canon Law: A Handbook. New York: The Seabury Press, 1965.

Stott, John. Homosexual Partnerships: Why Same-Sex Relationships Are Not a Christian Option. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1984.

Stuhlman, Byron David. Occasions of Grace; An historical and theological study of the Pastoral Offices and Episcopal Services in the Book of Common Prayer. New York: The Church Hymnal Corporation, 1995.

Stuart, Elizabeth, ed. Daring to Speak Love’s Name: A Gay and Lesbian Prayer Book. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1992.

A Supplication: To Compassionate Conservatives and Authentic Liberals. Published and distributed by A Committee of Episcopal Bishops; no date, but apparently originating mid-1996.

Suter, John Wallace. The American Book of Common Prayer: Its Origin and Development. New York: The Oxford University Press, 1949.

Talley, T.J. “From Berakhah to Eucharistia: A Reopening Question,” Worship 50 (1976), 115-137.

[TDNT] Friedrich, Gerhard, ed. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Translated and Edited by Geoffrey W. Bromiley. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974.

[TDOT] Botterwick, G. Johannes, and Helmer Ringgren, eds. Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament. Translated by John T. Willis. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974.

Thomas, Owen C. “The Story of Two Communities,” in OS 177-185.

[WD] White, Edwin Augustine, and Jackson A. Dykman. Annotated Constitution and Canons for the Government of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America otherwise known as The Episcopal Church. New York: The Seabury Press, 1981 in two volumes; with a Supplement, New York: The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, 1989.

Webber, Christopher. Re-Inventing Marriage: A Re-view and Re-vision. Harrisburg, Pa.: Morehouse Publishing, 1994.

Weil, Louis. “‘The Church Does Not Make a Marriage,’” Anglican Theological Review LXXII No. 2 (Spring 1990), 172-174.

Westermann, Claus. Genesis 1-11: A Commentary. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1984. Translated by John J. Scullion, S.J.

Williams, Robert. “Toward a Theology for Lesbian and Gay Marriage,” Anglican Theological Review LXXII No. 2 (Spring 1990), 134-157.

Winston, David. The Wisdom of Solomon: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Garden City: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1979. (The Anchor Bible 43)

[WP]    Women Priests: Obstacle to Unity? Documents and Correspondence: Rome and Canterbury 1975-1986. London: Catholic Truth Society, Publishers to the Holy See, 1986.