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3. Marriage Rites and Ceremonies

Antiquities of the Christian Church
XIX. Of Marriage

3. Marriage Rites and Ceremonies

It was a rule of the primitive church that the parties who were about to be united in marriage, both male and female, should signify their intentions to their pastor, that the connection might be formed with his approbation. The church were expected, in this manner, not only to take cognizance of the proposed marriage, but to determine whether it was duly authorized by the principles of the christian religion. The marriage was indeed valid in law without this ecclesiastical sanction; but it was open to censure from the church, and was followed by the imposition of penance, or the sentence of excommunication. 

This notice originally answered the purpose of a public proclamation in the church. No satisfactory indication of the modern custom of publishing the banns appears in the history of the church until the twelfth century, when it was required by the authority of ecclesiastical councils. According to the rules of the Romish church, this publishment should be made on three market days. In some countries the banns were published three times; in others, twice; and in others, once. The intentions of marriage were sometimes posted upon the doors or other parts of the church; sometimes published at the close of the sermon or before singing. The word banns, according to Du Cange, means a public notice or proclamation.

It is worthy of notice that no distinct account of the mode of solemnizing marriage, nor any prescribed form for this purpose is found in any of the early ecclesiastical writers, although they have many allusions to particular marriage rites and ceremonies. It appears that the propriety or necessity of religious exercises in solemnizing the marriage covenant, was not recognized by the civil law until the ninth century; but that such religious rites were required by the church as early as the second century. 

The rites of marriage in the ancient Greek church were essentially three: the sponsalia – the espousals, the investing with a crown, and the laying off of the crown.

  1. The ceremony of the espousals was as follows: the priest, after crossing himself three times upon the breast, presents the bridal pair, standing in the body of the house, each with a lighted wax candle, and then proceeds to the altar, where he offers incense from a cruciformed censer, after which the larger collect is sung with the responses and doxologies.

    Then follows the ceremony of presenting the ring. With a golden ring the priest makes a sign of the cross upon the head of the bridegroom, and then places it upon a finger of his right hand, thrice repeating these words: "This servant of the Lord espouses this handmaid of the Lord, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, both now and forever, world without end, Amen." In like manner, and with the same form of words, he presents the bride a silver ring. The grooms-man then changes the rings, whilst the priest, in a long prayer, sets forth the import of the rings. After which the whole is closed with a prescribed form of prayer. These espousals usually took place some time previous to the consummation of the marriage. According to some authorities two years usually intervened between the espousals and the marriage.

  2. The act of crowning the parties was appropriately the initiatory rite in solemnizing the marriage covenant. The preliminaries of this were the same as those of the espousals, with the exception that in this instance the 128th psalm was sung with the responses and doxologies. After this a discourse was delivered setting forth the importance and responsibilities of the marriage relation. Then various interrogations, relating to the marriage covenant and the unmarried state, were presented: next followed the larger collects, varied according to circumstances; after which a long prayer was offered, in three parts, each of which was announced in the customary form by the deacon, *. After this, the priest sets the nuptial crowns, which have been lying on the altar, first upon the head of the bridegroom and then upon that of the bride, saying, "This servant of the Lord hereby crowns this handmaid of the Lord, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, world without end. Amen." This ceremony is followed by prayers, doxologies, and the reading of the Scriptures, particularly Eph. 5:20–33 and John 2:1–11, and the alternate prayers of the priest and the deacon. The whole is concluded by the assembly, repeating the Lord's prayer with the customary responses; and the usual form of benediction.

    During these solemnities the priest presents to the newly married couple a glass of wine, of which each drinks three times, and then the glass is immediately broken, to denote the transitory nature of all earthly things.

    The minister then joins the hands of the parties, and leads them three times around in a circle, whilst the whole assembly unite in singing a nuptial song, the grooms-man meanwhile accompanying the married couple with his hands resting upon their heads, which are still adorned with the crown.

  3. The laying off of the crown. Upon the eighth day, the married pair present themselves again in the church, when the minister, with appropriate prayer, lays off the nuptial crown, and dismisses them with his benediction, offered in a prescribed form of words. This ceremony however was not uniformly observed.

    In all these rites the reader will observe a studied analogy to those of baptism.

    The second and third marriage was solemnized in much the same manner, the ceremonies being abridged, and the prayer of penance substituted in the place of the nuptial prayer. The church thus treated these as just occasions for discipline, and refused altogether to sanction a fourth marriage, but regarded it as a criminal offence.

Joach. Hildebrand, De nuptiis vet. Chr. 1656. Ed. 1733. 4: Sam. Schehvig, De amiquitate consecrationis nuptialls. 1689. 4: Chr. Korthoit, De necessitate consecr. nupt. 1690. 4: Jao. Emmerich, De sponsalibns et matrim. sacr. 1747. 8: Ch. W. Fliigge's Gesch. der kirchl. Einsegnung u. Copulation der Ehe. 2. A. 1809. 8.
(No tag #1 appears in Rev. Lyman Coleman's translation.)

Tertull. Ad uxor. lib. ii. c. 2. 9: De Monogram, c. 11.

Concil. Lateran. ii. A. D. 1139. c. 51: \v. A. D. 1215. c. 12.

Concil. Carthag. iv. c. 13: Gregor. Naz. ep. 57: Chrysost. Horn. 18 in Gen. p. 549: Basil. M. Horn. 7. in Heram. Opp. tom. i. p. 84: Sericius Ep. 1. ad Himmer, c.4: Gerhard. Loci. Theol. tom. XV. p. 394.

* ii. 5. – Unde sufficiamus ad enarrandam felicitatem ejus matrimonii, quod ecclesia conciliat, et confirmat oblatio, et obsignat benedictio, Angeli renuntiant, pater rato habet? Nam nee in terris filii sine consensu patrum rite et jusle nubent. Tertull. ad Uxor. lib. ii. c. 8, 9. – Occultae conjunctiones, id est, non prius apud ecclesiam professae, juxta moechiam et fornicationem judicari periclitantur, Tertull. De Pudicit. c. 4. 

Cum ipsum conjngium velamine sacerdotah et benedictione sanctificari oporteat, quoinodo potest conjugiutn dici ubi non est fidei concodia? Ambros., Ep. 70. – Etianisi nostrae ahsolutae sit potestatis quamhbet puellam in conjugium tradere, tradi a nobis Christianam nisi Christiano uon posse. Augustin.j Ep. 234, ad Rusticum. – * . 

(* denotes Greek text in Rev. Lyman Coleman's translation.)


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