An Interesting Comparison

Recently the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katherine Jefferts-Schori was in Nashville

International Marriage Sign

International Marriage Sign

for the anniversary celebration of St. Anne’s Episcopal Church. While she was here she spoke at a clergy forum (which I was unable to attend). At some point during her visit, the Tennessean covered some of her comments about the theology of marriage as presented in the Book of Common Prayer. According to the report, she stated that the primary end of marriage as presented within the BCP is companionship (of course, the fact that the BCP states that Christian marriage consists of the union of a man and a woman was conveniently overlooked), and not a remedy against sin. While it is true that the 1979 BCP removes the notion of marriage as a remedy against sin from the text of the preamble, I would argue that it is wrong to read the BCP outside the context of its predecessors. Indeed, what is interesting–given the strong criticisms some conservatives have of the 1979 BCP–is that the preamble to the marriage service in the 1979 is actually a fuller description of Christian marriage than is the one in the beloved 1928 Book of Common Prayer, and it hearkens back even more to the marriage service of the 1662 English Book of Common Prayer. While it’s a shame neither those married with the 1928 or 1979 heard the phrase “like brute beasts that have no understanding,” at least the 1979 makes reference to the “purposes for which it was instituted by God,” that is, the purposes mentioned previously as well, I would argue, as the traditional ends of marriage as explicated in the history of Christian theology.

1662 BCP 1928 BCP
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.

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

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, 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 honour-able among all men: and therefore is not by any to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly; but reverently, dis-creetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God. Into this holy estate these two persons present come now 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.
1979 BCP:

Dearly beloved: We have come together in the presence of God to witness and bless the joining together of this man and this woman in Holy Matrimony. The bond and covenant of marriage was established by God in creation, and our Lord Jesus Christ 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 people.The union of 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 accordance with the purposes for which it was instituted by God.

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6 thoughts on “An Interesting Comparison

  1. It is an expanded dialogue. However, ’79 has the order completely wrong regarding the purpose of Christian marriage. The movement of procreation of children to “third place” is ridiculous. Not to mention the very name of the service itself is watered down – ’28 “The Form of Solemnization of Matrimony” vs. ’79 “The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage.” I sure wish I had known more when Robyn and I got married because I certainly would insisted on 1928 or 1662!

  2. Will, solemnize has the sense of celebrating a marriage with appropriate rites–it is the act of the nuptial blessing that “makes solemn,” so I don’t see that the updating of the language is problematic . As for the order, I think one has to try pretty hard to say that just because something is in a different order that it is somehow unimportant–… Read Morethat’s the error the PB (and our former liturgy prof for that matter) make when reading the liturgy, especially given the fact that it is explicitly stated that marriage is to be entered into in “accordance with the purposes for which is was instituted by God”, there’s no hierarchy there, and no parsing of the purposes–if a marriage is entered into and intentionally denies one of these purposes, it might as well go against them all, whatever order they are listed in. Jeremy Taylor says as much in his work “Matrimonial chastity:”

    “It is an ill Husband that uses his Wife as a man treats a Harlot, having no other end but pleasure. Concerning which our best rule is, that although in this, as in eating and drinking there is an appetite to be satisfied, which cannot be done without pleasing that desire, yet since that desire and satisfaction was intended by Nature for other ends… Read More, they should never be separate from those ends, but always be joyned with all or one of these ends; with a desire of children, or to avoyd fornication, or to lighten and ease the cares and sadnesses of household affairs, or to endear each other: but never with a purpose either in act or desire to separate the sensuality from these ends which hallow it.”

    Much more troubling than the order in which the purposes are listed is the complete absence of some of the purposes–such as the avoidance of fornication. That is why I say it is important to read the 79 BCP in the context of what came before. That being said,I find the truncated rite of 28 to be more problematic than the 79, since, if order is seen as important, absence can only be more so, and there are no purposes for marriage acknowledged by the Rite. The purposes are in the background (as I said, these are all part of a greater tradition) but the 79 has more meat, especially for those who are not … Read Morein the Church, and who may never have thought about the reasons for marriage. Personally, I think the 1662 preamble would be something positive for people to hear in our own day, but I’m not sure if people could actually get past the terminology to hear it. I also appreciate the fact that the 79 states “when it is God’s will, for the procreation of Children,” I think that can be a wonderful jumping off point in premarital counseling to talk about the difference between God’s will and our own, and a way of moving into an informed understanding of contraceptives. Far too many protestants talk as if it were all dependent upon their willwithout ever examining their decision making process. I suppose one of the problems I have is that many of the problems with the 79 are not problems of the text, but of the readers–and some of these are as much the problems of conservatives as liberals, they just present in different ways. And they are problems that can’t be corrected by using a different liturgy because the underlying assumptions are still there.

    BTW, I realize that I’m probably one of ten or twelve people in TEC who believes the 79 should be read in light of the previous BCPs… oh well :-p

    I had a discussion with Anna about the 1662 service before we got married. That’s as far as it ever got–no chance to even consider getting permission from the Bishop (not that it would have been given, now that I know a little bit more about the approval of liturgies). Of course, I can’t say I had the holiest motivations–there were some particular family members I thought might squirm at the language!

  3. Good points Jody. When I get back to the office I’ll pull a copy of the “marriage book” that we use, I think printed by Morehouse. It’s the little small white one that has all of the signatures in it, and we give to the couple after the service. The prologue or preamble before the service has all of the points in it that you discussed above, and… Read More both clergy here read it to begin the rehearsal. Let me find that and include it in our discussion. It wasn’t just our liturgics professor who spoke about the reordering of the service, but Monti as well to make is point regarding the validity of homosexual unions. I think you’re right about the “when it is God’s will” clause in the ’79 rite, but the reordering of the intentions of marriage in conjunction sure help make for a better argument from the LGBT crowd. After all, the first two intentions are gender non-specific.

    And yes, you are probably one of 10-12 people who read ’79 in light of its predecessors. ;^)

  4. The first two are not gender specific, except that the BCP says that Christian marriage is between a man and a woman. Folks definitely want to emphasize what they want to further their agenda. Regardless of whether or not the service could/should be better, the folks who use the current BCP to argue for a progressive agenda are reading it with the same lens they read scripture with.

  5. Will, solemnize has the sense of celebrating a marriage with appropriate rites–it is the act of the nuptial blessing that “makes solemn,” so I don’t see that the updating of the language is problematic . As for the order, I think one has to try pretty hard to say that just because something is in a different order that it is somehow unimportant–… Read Morethat’s the error the PB (and our former liturgy prof for that matter) make when reading the liturgy, especially given the fact that it is explicitly stated that marriage is to be entered into in “accordance with the purposes for which is was instituted by God”, there’s no hierarchy there, and no parsing of the purposes–if a marriage is entered into and intentionally denies one of these purposes, it might as well go against them all, whatever order they are listed in. Jeremy Taylor says as much in his work “Matrimonial chastity:”

    “It is an ill Husband that uses his Wife as a man treats a Harlot, having no other end but pleasure. Concerning which our best rule is, that although in this, as in eating and drinking there is an appetite to be satisfied, which cannot be done without pleasing that desire, yet since that desire and satisfaction was intended by Nature for other ends… Read More, they should never be separate from those ends, but always be joyned with all or one of these ends; with a desire of children, or to avoyd fornication, or to lighten and ease the cares and sadnesses of household affairs, or to endear each other: but never with a purpose either in act or desire to separate the sensuality from these ends which hallow it.”

    Much more troubling than the order in which the purposes are listed is the complete absence of some of the purposes–such as the avoidance of fornication. That is why I say it is important to read the 79 BCP in the context of what came before. That being said, I find the truncated rite of 28 to be more problematic than the 79, since, if order is seen as important, absence can only be more so, and there are no purposes for marriage acknowledged by the Rite. The purposes are in the background (as I said, these are all part of a greater tradition) but the 79 has more meat, especially for those who are not … Read Morein the Church, and who may never have thought about the reasons for marriage. Personally, I think the 1662 preamble would be something positive for people to hear in our own day, but I’m not sure if people could actually get past the terminology to hear it. I also appreciate the fact that the 79 states “when it is God’s will, for the procreation of Children,” I think that can be a wonderful jumping off point in premarital counseling to talk about the difference between God’s will and our own, and a way of moving into an informed understanding of contraceptives. Far too many protestants talk as if it were all dependent upon their will without ever examining their decision making process. I suppose one of the problems I have is that many of the problems with the 79 are not problems of the text, but of the readers–and some of these are as much the problems of conservatives as liberals, they just present in different ways.

    And they are problems that can’t be corrected by using a different liturgy because the underlying assumptions are still there.

    BTW, I realize that I’m probably one of ten or twelve people in TEC who believes the 79 should be read in light of the previous BCPs… oh well :-p

    I had a discussion with Anna about the 1662 service before we got married. That’s as far as it ever got–no chance to even consider getting permission from the Bishop (not that it would have been given, now that I know a little bit more about the approval of liturgies). Of course, I can’t say I had the holiest motivations–there were some particular family members I thought might squirm at the language!

  6. The first two are not gender specific, except that the BCP says that Christian marriage is between a man and a woman. Folks definitely want to emphasize what *they* want to further their agenda. Regardless of whether or not the service could/should be better, the folks who use the current BCP to argue for a progressive agenda are reading it with the same lens they read scripture with.

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