Marriage (the Western European model)

Marriage (the Western European model)

– “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 death do us part”
– this marriage vow / wedding service (which has been written into the Book of Common Prayer) has been recited by many couples in Church weddings since 1552
– prior to this, marriage was less formal & polygamy/concubines/mistresses was/were permitted
– however the Babylonian codes (2000 BC) were more directed towards monogamy & was regulated, with harsh punishments (usually death for women & financial penury for men)
– by 4 BC, marriage was more a legal binding with respect to property/finances (Athens)
– Augustine (Roman Empire) introduced marriage laws to clamp down on adultery/affairs
– there was also support for divorce (without social stigma)
– Old Testament has support for polygamy & concubines, but later Christianity (as opposed to early Christianity, with celibacy seen as the best thing) & Judaism has support for monogamous relationships
– gospels are fairly ambivalent about marriage
– marriage is as ancient as the world
– people were referred to as husband & housewife (abbreviated to wife)
– “man for the plough & woman for the needle” – it was about balance & marriages came into trouble when the man couldn’t provide/the woman was infertile &/or incompetent
– the Church became more involved in marriage in the 10th/11th century (priests presiding over ceremonies)
– marriage became a sacrament in the 13th century
– reformists such as Martin Luther wanted marriage to be simpler/purer
– in the 16th century, the Church becomes highly successful at the legal stuff within marriage, including arbitration/dispensation of justice (enforcement of marriage primarily & dissolutions)
– in England, the marriage act & being married in a church did not come in for common people until 1753 (Lord Hardwick) – increased parental control of young people running off with others; increased Church role
– romantic love did not become predominant for the mass of people until the 20th century, with it being the preserve of literature & the rich in the 18th century
– the programme also discussed how the biggest change has occurred with respect to the demand/expectations placed on marriage today (while the size of the extended family has shrunk & the shrinking support – I.e. witnesses no longer support couples)
– they believe marriage is more a formality today, rather than an institution

Source: BBC Radio 4 | In Our Time | Podcast date: 21 March 2002


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