Oscar Watkins writes,
This question is still beyond all doubt one of the most difficult questions on the subject of marriage with which the Church is confronted.
He writes this in 1895*. He is referring to the “question” of whether mixed marriage — that is, marriage between a Christian and a person of a different faith or no faith at all — is permitted, or even constitutes a “marriage.” He notes that in the time of Constantius II (339) marriage of a Christian with a Jew was a capital offense, though this was lessened to equivalence with adultery within fifty years.
By his present (our past) time, the “question” of marriage between persons of opposite sects has come under wider consideration on the Continent, in part due to the opening of the New World to European adventures four centuries prior, and the more recent colonization of the Far East and Africa. Watkins, writing in the thick of things as senior chaplain on Her Majesty’s Bengal Establishment, evidences clear distaste for the “insidious system of Papal dispensations” allowing for mixed marriages in such settings, “without, as it would seem, any attempt to find justification or authority in the mind of the Church.”
For the English themselves, this has not been a lively issue until recently (in Watkins’ terms) as “until the seventeenth century England had no possessions in heathen countries, and that the Jews were expelled from the kingdom from Edward I, and were not re-admitted until the time of the Commonwealth.” Things are changing, however, and this important “question” is now before the church and state of England itself.
In eerily familiar language, identical in tone but different only in number, Watkins summarily concludes that except in the deplorable case of Papal dispensation, “the results of eighteen and a half centuries of Christian teaching and practice are that… marriages between baptized persons and persons unbaptized stand prohibited.”
There has, of course, been a good deal of water under several bridges since 1895. Perhaps one might say the bridges have been washed away. A rubric of the 1979 BCP indicates with limpid clarity that precisely what “1,850 years of Christian teaching” had forbidden is now perfectly licit, and without any dispensation. Interfaith marriage is also now permitted in the Church of England.†
So much for the claim that Christian teaching and practice on marriage has not changed — the requirement of same-sects marriage is a thing of the past.
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
* Oscar D. Watkins, Holy Matrimony: A Treatise on the Divine Laws of Marriage (London: Rivington, Percival & Co., 1895), pages 489ff. passim
† see the 2004 GUIDELINES FOR THE CELEBRATION OF INTER FAITH MARRIAGES IN CHURCH from the Mission and Public Affairs Council of the C of E