Marriage as Sacrament

I read once, and had it confirmed to me by a priest, that marriage was only made a sacrament at the Council of Trent.

Does anyone know the circumstances surrounding this? If marriage wasn’t a sacrament before this, why make it so now?

Are marriages prior to Trent considered sacramental? (This question clearly has no practical application since there’s no one around today who was married before Trent. I’m just curious.)

Marriage was basically considered a Sacrament before Trent, though only by a few centuries. Trent authoritatively defined the 7 sacraments to remove all question for Catholics.

Just because it took the Church (us humans) a while to understand marriage as sacrament does not mean it was not in fact sacramental before that.

The practice of marriage predates the Church of course, and it took a while for the Church to understand and “work out” its role in and understanding of marriage.

Yes, marriage has been a sacrament ever since Jesus made it one.

For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall be two in one flesh. 32 This is a great sacrament; but I speak in Christ and in the church.

Ephesians 5:31-32.

Now, mind you, the word “sacrament” was a little broader at that time than it is used today, but the context makes clear that St. Paul meant it in this particular way.

And the Fathers have always understood marriage to be a sacrament, too:

Therefore the good of marriage throughout all nations and all men stands in the occasion of begetting, and faith of chastity: but, so far as pertains unto the People of God, also in the sanctity of the Sacrament, by reason of which it is unlawful for one who leaves her husband, even when she has been put away, to be married to another, so long as her husband lives, no not even for the sake of bearing children

St. Augustine, Of the Good of Marriage, 24, 32 – written c. 401.

It is certainly not fecundity only, the fruit of which consists of offspring, nor chastity only, whose bond is fidelity, but also a certain sacramental bond in marriage which is recommended to believers in wedlock.

St. Augustine, On Marriage and Concupiscence, 11 – written c. 419.

The Orthodox consider Marriage to be a Sacrament, and they split off from us in 1054.

So either

  1. Marriage was considered a Sacrament prior to the Orthodox splitting off

  2. The Orthodox consider Trent to be an authoritative Eccumenical Council.

Bets on which one it is :slight_smile:

YES, Christ elevated Marriage to the level of a Sacrament.

I want to play Devil’s Advocate here because I want to be able to defend the Church’s position on marriage.

Several people have mentioned that Jesus called or made marriage a sacrament. Where? I could see how you might claim that He put His blessing on it at Cana but I don’t remember Him calling it a sacrament.

Godfollower, You quoted Eph 5:32. The translation you used uses the word ‘sacrament’ but other versions use “mystery.” The Greek is mysterion which means mystery, a truth that is beyond our ability to comprehend. According to Scott Hahn, the words for sacrament and oath are related. A sacrament may be a mystery but not all mysteries are sacraments.

Brendan, There’s another option you didn’t list. The Orthodox could have raised marriage to the level of a sacrament after the schism and without taking Trent into consideration.

Diggerdomer, Was it a council that made marriage a sacrament prior to Trent or did it come about by way of the ordinary magisterium?

Biblical support is Mark 10 (also reiterated by Paul in 1 Cor 7). Also, I don’t think anywhere in the Bible does Jesus call anything a sacrament, so responding to that objection should be easy.


Yes, that’s why I said that the word was “a little broader at that time than it is used today, but the context makes clear that St. Paul meant it in this particular way.” Paul speaks of the love of husband and wife for each other, and God had always charactized His relationship with the people of Israel in terms of the marital covenant (when they strayed, it was compared to adultery, but God was always faithful, etc.). It’s the context that makes clear that this use of the word “sacrament” (which is a proper translation of the Greek) is meant this way. (This is why Trent referred to Paul as “intimating” that matrimony is a sacrament, rather than referring to him as “stating” that it is).

Add to that the fact that the Church Fathers overwhelmingly referred to matrimony as a sacrament, and that pretty much answers the question, I think. The Augustinian references I cited in my previous post, as well as Ambrose and others, makes it pretty clear.

In the Eastern tradition sacraments are more commonly referred to as mysteries. This makes it a bit trickier to distinguish them from sacramentals, also known as mysteries. However, it is generally accepted by Eastern Catholics and Orthodox alike that there are exactly seven mysteries in the strictest sense of the word.

[quote=garysibio]Brendan, There’s another option you didn’t list. The Orthodox could have raised marriage to the level of a sacrament after the schism and without taking Trent into consideration.

That occurred to me as well, but since there have been no ecumenical councils in the Orthodox Church since that time, such a development would be unlikely. The Synod of Jerusalem is probably the closest they’ve come. According to the resulting Confession of Dositheus,

any number of the Mysteries other than seven is the product of heretical madness

This was in response to the Confession of Cyril, Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople, which adopted a rather Calvinist approach and declared only two sacraments. OrthodoxWiki discusses the Orthodox perspective on the mysteries, and there were also a few good threads about it in the old Eastern Christianity forum here at CAF - at this point, the moderators are waiting to provide access to the archives until they finish reviewing the threads.

One more possible point on this: If you can find any Oriental Orthodox resources that concur on the number of sacraments, it would demonstrate an earlier agreement on this issue than the Eastern Orthodox, since they split off in the Fifth Century.

I could not agree with you any more because it took the Church (us humans) a while to understand marriage as sacrament does not mean it was not in fact sacramental before that.

To say that one of the seven sacraments was not instituted by Christ is to make one’s self anathema. To say that Matrimony was not one of the seven sacraments instituted by Christ is to make one’s self anathema.

The Seventh Session of the Council of Trent

Celebrated on the third day of the month of March, MDXLVII.

Decree on the Sacraments

On the Sacraments in general

Canon I. If any one saith, that the sacraments of the New Law were not all instituted by Jesus Christ, our Lord; or, that they are more, or less, than seven, to wit, Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist, Penance, Extreme Unction, Order, and Matrimony; or even that any one of these seven is not truly and properly a sacrament; let him be anathema.

Also here during the session on Matrimony there is more showing that the Fathers of Trent did not invent the Sacrament of Matrimony:

The Twenty-Fourth Session of the Council of Trent.

Being the eighth under the Sovereign Pontiff, Pius IV, celebrated on the eleventh day of November, MDLXIII.

Doctrine on the Sacrament of Matrimony.

The first parent of the human race, under the influence of the Divine Spirit, pronounced the bond of Matrimony perpetual and indissoluble, when he said; “This now is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh. Wherefore a man shall leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall be two in one flesh.” But, that by this bond two only are united and joined together, our Lord taught more plainly, when rehearsing those last words as having been uttered by God, He said, “therefore now they are not two, but one flesh;” and straightway confirmed the firmness of that tie, proclaimed so long before by Adam, by these words; What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder. But, the grace which might perfect that natural love, and confirm that indissoluble union, and sanctify the married, Christ Himself, the institutor and perfecter of the venerable sacraments, merited for us by His passion; as the Apostle Paul intimates, saying: “Husbands love your wives, as Christ also loved the Church, and delivered himself up for it;” adding shortly after, “This is a great sacrament, but I speak in Christ and in the Church.” Whereas therefore Matrimony, in the evangelical law, excels in grace, through Christ, the ancient marriages; with reason have our Holy Fathers, the Councils, and the Tradition of the Universal Church, always taught, that it is to be numbered amongst the Sacraments of the New Law; against which, impious men of this age raging, have not only had false notions touching this venerable sacrament, but, introducing according to their wont, under the pretext of the Gospel, a carnal liberty, they have by word and writing asserted, not without great injury to the faithful of Christ, many things alien from the sentiment of the Catholic Church, and from the usage approved of since the times of the Apostles; the Holy and Universal Synod wishing to meet the rashness of these men, has thought it proper, lest their pernicious contagion may draw more after it, that the more remarkable heresies and errors of the above-named schismatics be exterminated, by decreeing against the said heretics and their errors the following anathemas.

On the Sacrament of Matrimony.

Canon I. If any one saith, that Matrimony is not truly and properly one of the seven sacraments of the evangelic law, (a sacrament) instituted by Christ the Lord; but that it has been invented by men in the Church; and that it does not confer grace; let him be anathema.

– Nicole

One thing we have to remember is that we, as humans and for all our strange reasons, have to have things in writing and spelled out for us. It is extremely difficult for us to take things seriously when we only, or almost only, have it by word of mouth. There are too many out there saying “prove it”

Up until the Council of Trent there was a debate as to how many sacraments were established by Jesus. Trent simply infallibly declared that Jesus established 7 and named them.
Despite the various lists and arguments, I don’t recall any major theologian or figure of the Church ever leaving marriage off of the list. Perhaps one or two did, but the overwhelming tradition of the Church included marriage as a sacrament and Trent simply officially defined it.

Its important to remember that the Church doesn’t go around defining things unless there’s a specific need to. Anytime the Church makes an official definition it is usually because some kind of debate has arisen and the Church wishes to end any confusion. Afterall, the Church didn’t officially define Jesus as divine until Nicea when Arianism was popular. Yet Christians clearly and definitively believed Jesus to be God from the very begining.

Yes and no. The Eastern Orthodox aren’t as consumed as the Western Church is with definitively defining things. The Orthodox would generally agree with us on the number 7 but wouldn’t be upset by a looser usage of the term “mystery.” For example, some early Church figures thought that the funeral rites were a distinct sacrament. In the RCC today that would be considered clearly erroneous. But if someone in the Orthodox church made that same statement today, it wouldn’t raise much of an eyebrow.

Especially since a Christian who claims not to like words or concepts that aren’t explicitly mentioned in the Bible can always be invited to find the word “Trinity” in there. (Good luck…)

That the Church has always known something does not mean that the Church has always articulated it in a particular way. It would be more correct, then, to say that the Church did not confirm it was proper to apply the word “sacrament” to marriage until Trent. There is a big difference.

Western Europeans, especially since the Enlightenment, have become especially stubborn in this regard. We are taught to have this expectation that the truth can and should be articulated in strictly logical terms. People can also be taught to be fairly stubborn about having their learned expectations met. There are human beings, though, and always have been, who save their nitpicking expectations for other things. The ones with the most peace give up as many of their nitpicking expectations as they can manage to give up…

Marriage is so important a sacrament that God created this one in the first days of Genesis 2:20-25. In fact it is the first sacrament ever given to us from God. That’s why we need to protect it at all times. All creation of mankind is based on this very fact…

The man gave names to all the cattle, all the birds of the air, and all the wild animals; but none proved to be the suitable partner for the man.
So the LORD God cast a deep sleep on the man, and while he was asleep, he took out one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. The LORD God then built up into a woman the rib that he had taken from the man. When he brought her to the man,
the man said: “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; This one shall be called ‘woman,’ for out of ‘her man’ this one has been taken.” That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body. The man and his wife were both naked, yet they felt no shame.

Exactly, which is why I specified “mystery” in the strictest sense. Interesting about the funeral rites, I wasn’t aware of that.

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