RE ATAR Unit 4: how and why a religion develops and expresses its beliefs

Development of the Belief

Overview of Church involvement in the development of the belief

  • God's original plan for marriage
  • Jewish faith tradition
  • Roman and Greek influences
  • 12th century Catholic Church takes control of marriage
  • 16th to 19th century secular/national state emerges - marriage takes on legal concept outside of religious ceremony.

Factors/influences in the development of the belief

Jewish influences on early Christian marriages

•Tolerated polygamy- however not a popular practice even in Jesus’ time
•Certain marriages between in-laws required to maintain physical descent, some close kinship marriages prohibited
•Woman considered as husband’s property to be put away, however Torah forbade adultery on grounds that his property rights were violated
•Understanding that infidelity to God was punished by exile (prophets) transferred this to marriage-men were to be faithful to their wives as a sign of all round faithfulness to God (Proverbs 5:15-20)- hence prophets urged faithfulness and denounced divorce
•Divorce as hateful as marriage is a covenant witnessed by God (Malachi)
•urging the forgiveness of an unfaithful wife (Hosea) - marriage as a sign of the faithfulness of God
•Husband may divorce if he finds in his wife ‘something indecent’ (Deuteronomy 24:1)- (divorce in some circumstances)
•Matthew 19:3 - 6 - Pharisees ask Jesus in reference to Deut - “Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife or not?’- Jesus answers using Genesis referring to permanence in marriage.

From contract to sacrament

Roman influences on early Christian marriage

  • Family affair with attendant religious rites if desired - no formal religious ritual
  • No written or verbal contract
  • Arranged by the father who possessed absolute rights over family and could divorce his wife at will
  • Father seeking advantageous unions for name and property
  • Marriage for continuance of clan and heritage
  • When centralised governments takes over- laws for marriage - forbade marriage between slave and citizen, citizen and foreigner and certain kinship, no marriage contract, divorce by choice
  • 6th century - some verification of marriage - need for legal and proper transfer of wealth and property
  • Right of man and woman to marry by mutual consent only and no binding for life, blessing of priest simply a private choice - ‘til 12th century
  • Marriage solely by mutual consent of partners - increased clandestine marriages- no way of verifying marriage


  • Followed Roman custom: mutual consent was the only requirement for a valid marriage, no need for a ceremony or presence of priest
  • The only difference being in attitude
  • Christians went against the Roman rules of slaves and citizens marrying
  • Christians rejected the sexual freewheeling of the Romans in their attitudes towards infidelity and divorce- influenced by Paul

St Paul on marriage

  • St Paul (New Testament era around 50 AD)
  • He believed that the second coming was imminent
  • Paul preferred celibacy on the grounds that he saw marriage as distracting from the true purpose of life.
  • Marriage was encouraged as a means for preventing the sin of lust on the grounds of immorality (single life is difficult)
  • Paul is giving a set of ‘living codes’ to live above reproach - in Roman society
  • Paul’s language in Ephesians is often “sexist” in terms of modern culture. Ephesians 5:22-33
  • Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her …  for we are members of his body.31  “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”
  • He sees marriage a covenant when he compares spousal love with that of Christ for the Church (love, respect, sacrifice) - very different from the Roman understanding of living or love
  • The Greek word for mystery – later is used  to coin the word “sacrament”
  • in 1 Corinthians 7, Paul sees marriage almost as a contract
  • exchanging of mutual rights and obligations using words like duty and rights and laws for inter religious marriages.
  • Paul discusses divorce (1Cor 7:12-16). The Pauline privilege meant that a Christian need not remain single if the non-believer left the marriage.
  • There was hence an understanding of absolute indissolubility and yet rarely in certain cases permitted divorce.
  • So from Pauline writings marriage as contract (Corinthians) and covenant (Ephesians)
  • At this stage of the development - covenant was the focus of the belief as well as contract

St Augustine 350 - 430CE

Negative tradition from the Bible

  • Sin and sex appear to be related- first recorded sexual act after the fall
  • Jesus was celibate
  • Mary was a virgin
  • Paul was celibate
  • idea of giving up all including family
  • Early Church Fathers worked in a climate negativity towards sex and marriage-
  • There must a god reason God created sex- what could it be?
  • The answer was- based on community- a duty to community and society who needed children and so sex was justified solely on the grounds that is brought children. Any other motive was sinful.
  • This answer was justified in Jewish tradition as well (Leah, Rachel, Elizabeth, Sarah)
  • At this stage of the development- procreation was the focus of the belief
  • St Augustine - sex act is materially evil.
  • He came up with the 3 goods of marriage- FIDELITY, OFFSPRING and SACRAMENT
  • Augustine rejected divorce, going against Roman understanding
  • Jesus as the bridegroom with the Church as the bride -  Augustine’s idea derived from several Bible references to Jesus as the Bridegroom

Church controls Marriage - 12th Century

•Church involved in moral issues
•Moral issues became legal issues in society
•bishops drawn into political power
•The Church became involved in marriage.
•Civil marriage was brought into the church and liturgical service.
•Marriage was constituted by mutual consent.
•Marriage became a contract- exchange of rights to each other’s bodies for procreation. Marital sex had no other function. Corresponding obligations centred on duty.
•No room for covenant love, community and sharing of affection
•Marriage became described in legalistic and ritualistic terms.

From contract to sacrament

1139 2nd Lateran Council - followed by the councils of Lyons and Florence- The theologians justified marriage as a sacrament on the basis of St Pauls’ teaching that it was a living sign of Jesus covenant love for the Church.
St Thomas Aquinas 1225-1274:
•regarded sex and procreation as good in themselves.
•Marriage is a “natural undertaking”,
•a sacrament of the New Law
•Marriage does impart grace and human sexuality in conjugal relations can be “an act of religion”.
•marriage as a holy sign that causes grace, a sacrament in itself.
•“Efficacious sign”
•mutual consent and consummation make the marriage valid
•He used the psychology of friendship to marital love