To What Extent Did The Church Control The Ideas And Practice Of Marriage?

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Introduction

During the medieval period, the development of individuals was strongly conditioned by their immediate relationships. This included relationships with parents, siblings, kin, friends, lovers, spouses and children. In the Middle Ages, getting married was easy for Christians living in western Europe. According to the church, which created and enforced marriage law, couples didn’t need the permission of their families or a priest to officiate. Medieval marriage practice continues to influence ceremonies today – from banns [the reading three times of your intention to marry] to declaring vows in the present tense. In this the church took a lead and appears to have been responsible for a fundamental shift in practice, though secular considerations did not lose force. Although, getting married was quite easy during this time, the practice of marriage and its conditions may have been largely controlled by institutions such as the church.

This is because of evidence found by historians that identified how important the church viewed marriage. Due to this, the church was able to reinforce certain measure that were to be followed. Although, it can be claimed that this was not the same for all, as these formal rules may have “differed from class to class”. This meant that the church may have had little impact for some groups such as the nobility. This essay will advance the argument that to a large extent the Church did control the ideas and practises of marriage. To prove this, I will first explain how the church viewed marriage as a sacrament as used this to influence their practises and expectations of marriage. Secondly, I will explore how to some extent the Church may have had limited impact, as class and status influenced the practises of marriage. Thirdly, I will consider how much impact the Church had in its reforms, as some claimed the Church controlled and took advantage of marriages. They did this through benefiting in property ownership. There are varying extremes of how much control the church had in influencing the ideas and practises of marriage.

Some historians such as Martha Howell, identified the little impact the Church had in controlling the ideas and practises of marriage. She states that factors such as status and wealth had more impact in determining how parents chose a suitable partner for their children and allowing the marriage. However, at the other extreme, some sources identify the control the Church had on marriage practises. This included the Church having enforced rituals and witnesses in a marriage. These ideas are quite broad and up to personal interpretation. [1: M. Howell, ‘Marriage in Medieval Latin Christendom’, in A Companion to the Medieval World, eds. C. Lansing and E. D. English (Oxford, 2009) Pg. 131 ]

Marriage as a sacrament

To begin with, it can be argued to a large extent that the Church controlled the ideas and practises of marriage. This is strongly because of how the Church began to view marriage as a sacrament. As a result, the Church began to understand the importance of marriage and began to implement practises that they believe supported the Christian values and thinking. By the church giving “spiritual meaning to the marital bond”, it meant that marriage may have been more respected and valued. This was mainly represented from the teachings in the Bible. In the first book of the Bible, Genesis and in gospels, it explains God’s creation.

It mentions how just as Christ and the Church are one, this should also be reinforced through marriage. The marriage should involve the partners becoming one flesh, which would complete and “bind themselves in consented marriage” This is strongly evident in a source, whereby it claims that marriages were so important and intimate, taking “his and her own flesh to cherish”. By attaching this religious impact onto marriage, this encouraged more people to get married in Churches. This also highlights how much impact the Church had in attaching religious meanings to the practises of marriage. In addition to this, from the 12th century, churchmen “praised marriage as a legitimate, if second order, alternative to celibacy”. This strongly suggests how even religious churchmen saw marriage as an alternative, highlighting the importance of marriage as a sacrament. Moreover, although “mutual consent alone constituted a valid marriage” , there still had to be witnesses present to validate that marriage.

This meant that the Church reinforced rules that meant that when banns were read, there had to be members of the community present in case they were to go against and protest against the marriage. This was usually because those with prior marriages were not allowed to marry again. Thus, this meant that the Church was able to control to some extent who people could marry. In addition to this from 1215, the Church only validated marriages that a “priest officiated”. This strongly suggests that marriages without this validated were strongly seen by the Church as ‘unofficial’, were mostly “considered clandestine”. From this, it can be argued that the Church controlled the ideas and practises of marriages as they encouraged official marriages. Consent in marriages alone was not enough for the Church to deem it valid or legitimate until 1563. In addition to this, it could be argued to a large extent that the Church had a lot of control on the ideas and practises of marriage. This was largely because of how the Church rejected divorce. The Catholic church “deemed marriage indissoluble”. Therefore, this may have restricted and acted as a barrier to many people in wanting to remarry or divorce.

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This also led to an increase in the number of people who got married unofficially. However, most people of all social classes began to “accept these rules as the norm”. This strongly suggests how successful the Church were in reinforcing their reforms and practises on marriage. Due to this, “the church sought to assure that banns were read at specified times and places” [2: M. Howell, ‘Marriage in Medieval Latin Christendom’, in A Companion to the Medieval World, eds. C. Lansing and E. D. English (Oxford, 2009) Pg.] [3: Hugh of St Victor on Marriage. From C. N. L. Brooke, The Medieval Idea of Marriage (Oxford, 1991), Pg.278] [4: Ibid.,] [5: M. Howell, ‘Marriage in Medieval Latin Christendom’, in A Companion to the Medieval World, eds. C. Lansing and E. D. English (Oxford, 2009) Pg. 135] [6: Ibid.,] [7: Ibid.,] [8: M. Howell, ‘Marriage in Medieval Latin Christendom’, in A Companion to the Medieval World, eds. C. Lansing and E. D. English (Oxford, 2009) Pg.136]

Secularisation

However, it could be argued to a lesser extent that the Church had little impact in controlling the ideas and practises of marriage. This is strongly because of the rise of secularisation. This is the fact that society during this period began to diminish its religious values. This meant that factors such as class and status held more of an importance in controlling the ideas and practises of marriages. Martha Howell clearly proclaims that the Church had played no part in this process and secular considerations were more important. She claims that marriage was conditioned off of the Church’s practises and ideas, marriage was conditioned on the “a matter of propriety”. Howell explains that choices in marriage were solely based off of how it benefitted the family’s status and wealth. Religious views were disregarded. She disagrees with claiming marriage during this period was regarded as a sacrament. She argues that marriage was only a means of “creating social, political, and economic alliances”.

Howell explains that parents would pick a suitable partner for their children their benefitted their status and religion played no part in this process. This would ultimately serve the interests of the elite and nobility. For example, families of a higher status would not allow their children to marry a peasant. This would strongly be because this would not be a positive impact to [12: Ibid., ] [13: Ibid., P.135] “to secure and deepen their own social networks”. Many factors would determine who a child was to be married to which included, family property and power. Moreover, Howell also explains how in the 16th century, protestants “allowed divorce in certain cases”. This may explain how to some extent, the Church did not control the ideas and practises of marriage. This is because although the Church were against divorce, newly reformed Protestant churches were open to this. This meant that whilst marriage can be seen as serving the interests of the higher-class groups, divorce also did the same. This meant that noble men were able to “shed wives who had not produced an heir, who were no longer of use in securing political alliances, or who stood in the way of a better match”. [14: M. Howell, ‘Marriage in Medieval Latin Christendom’, in A Companion to the Medieval World, eds. C. Lansing and E. D. English (Oxford, 2009) Pg. 131] [15: Ibid., Pg.136]

However, although parents had a say in deciding who their children married, the Church still had a lot of control in this process too. This is because during the 16th century children were now “children were able to marry just by mutual consent” The church allowed this. “the principle allowing a couple to form a valid marriage by mutual consent alone provoked especially vigorous opposition, for parents and public officials alike considered the church’s position an infringement of their rights to control the marriage decision” “by the central Middle Ages, however, the Church had radically expanded the category of prohibited kinship, forbidding marriages between kin related by blood”

Despite this, it could be argued to a large extent that the Church still had a lot of control on the ideas and practises of marriage. This is because of evidence that claims that Churches had so much control in which they were able alter rules “for its own material benefit”. This was because the Church put forward reforms that benefitted them in terms of ownership of property. Howell recognises the power they had in doing so, explaining how the Church “fashioned the rules”. The Church did this by the development of reforms which meant widows had to marry out of their line, which meant that widows were “inclined to leave their property to the church rather than return it to the families who had sent them out”. This meant that the Church made reforms around marriage to benefit their wealth and power. The more properties that were to be left with the Church, the more wealth and power they were left with. In addition to this, to some extent the Church did have some control in the practises of marriage due to the fact that unfree people were “expected to acquire their lord’s permission before marrying” [19: M. Howell, ‘Marriage in Medieval Latin Christendom’, in A Companion to the Medieval World, eds. C. Lansing and E. D. English (Oxford, 2009) Pg. 136]

Conclusion

To conclude, to some extent it can be argued to some extent that the Church lost its control and value in marriage because of new reforms that allowed for people. This was because it no longer became essential for people to marry in the church. In addition to this, society became more secular. This means that, whilst people began to move away from religion and its values, people no longer felt the need to follow the guidance and principle that the Church had put in place for marriage. However, to a much larger extent it can be argued that the Church were very controlling in the ideas of marriage. This was because, the church still claimed that “marriages performed without the proper publicity and rituals were considered “clandestine”. This means that marriages were unlikely to be accepted by the Church. [20: Ibid.,]

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To What Extent Did The Church Control The Ideas And Practice Of Marriage? (2022, February 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved August 7, 2022, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/to-what-extent-did-the-church-control-the-ideas-and-practice-of-marriage/
“To What Extent Did The Church Control The Ideas And Practice Of Marriage?” Edubirdie, 17 Feb. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/to-what-extent-did-the-church-control-the-ideas-and-practice-of-marriage/
To What Extent Did The Church Control The Ideas And Practice Of Marriage? [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/to-what-extent-did-the-church-control-the-ideas-and-practice-of-marriage/> [Accessed 7 Aug. 2022].
To What Extent Did The Church Control The Ideas And Practice Of Marriage? [Internet] Edubirdie. 2022 Feb 17 [cited 2022 Aug 7]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/to-what-extent-did-the-church-control-the-ideas-and-practice-of-marriage/
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