August 30, 2013

Old is New

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

6 comments:

Erp said...

Note that the document on interfaith marriages states
"the Law of England provides that every person resident in a parish (regardless of nationality) has a right to be married by banns in the parish church according to the rites and ceremonies of the Church of England, whether he or she is baptised or not" and that has been the law of the land in England and Wales since the mid 1700s. Indeed from the mid 1700s until the 1830s the only weddings allowed in England and Wales were Church of England (with the exception of Quaker and Jewish marriages). So if two Catholics or two Unitarians or an interfaith couple wanted to get married legally it had to be done in the CoE parish church (or they had to travel abroad) and the local parish church could not refuse them (unless the couple could not legally marry). However the ceremony has to be the full BCP ceremony with no subtractions. This usually means that after the 1830s when registry office weddings and non CoE places of worship could be licensed for marriage that most who weren't both CoE opted out of the CoE weddings.

Tobias Haller said...

Thank you Erp. The situation you describe was the result of Lord Hardwicke's Marriage Act, initially intended to prevent clandestine marriages. The possibility of the occasional interfaith marriage to which this may have given rise (it isn't clear to me if it actually did give rise to such marriages) is no doubt part of the concern raised by Watkins.

Tobias Haller said...

Let me add that Watkins, from the outset of this magnum opus declares that he will not get into issues of civil law and is only concerned with the theological or doctrinal aspects. He does occasionally cite a case (such as Hyde v Hyde and Wolverson, 1866, which declared that Mormon marriage did not constitute Christian marriage even if not polygamous, because the possibility of polygamy voided the proper intent) but his main interest is the doctrine of Christian marriage, which he finds does not allow for interfaith marriage.

Erp said...

The problem for the CoE is that canon law is part of the civil law in England and Wales. The non-approval of the 1927/28 BCP by the House of Commons being an example.

I agree that interfaith marriages would have been rare without a formal conversion of one partner to the other partner's religion (most likely non-converting would have been Unitarian/Trinitarian Christian if you or Watkins count that). Does Watkins mention Unitarians?

Tobias Haller said...

I find no reference to Unitarians in Watkins.

He does say that the marriage of unbaptized persons is "forbidden by custom rather than by canon." I have come across a letter citing the eminent Canonist Dr. Phillimore in which he says that clergy are not required to ask if parties are baptized, but if it came to the vicar's attention that one of the party was not baptized, he should write a letter (and keep a copy) expressing his inability to continue with the marriage. Again this would appear to be the force of custom rather than law.

In the proposed revision to the English Canons (1947) an effort was made to remedy this, by the enactment of Canon XXXVII:

Of the Marriage of Unbaptized Persons

No Minister shall allow Matrimony to be celebrated in his Church between two persons neither of whom has been baptized; and if two persons, one of whom has not been baptized, desire to be married in his Church, he shall refer the matter to the Bishop of the Diocese and obey therein his order and direction.

It appears the 1947 proposed whole revision of the Canons was not adopted.

Tobias Haller said...

I should add that the present canons contain no such restriction. The rubrics of Common Worship don't appear to offer specific direction for marriage where one of the parties is not baptized; there is reference to "ecumenical" marriages.

Of course, my point in all of this is not that I accept the old doctrine that "the marriage of heathens is not marriage and may be dissolved at will" -- I am suggesting that few who are vehemently opposed to same-sex marriage would also rest on this "unchanging" principle that Christian marriage is for Christians alone, or that -- in accord with the biblical permission -- a non-Christian couple, one of whom becomes a Christian, may divorce without any difficulty and remarry.