Holy Matrimony is a Sacrament according to catholicism and tradition but not according to most protestants. This is funny considering that one of the favorite arguments for or against something, particularly for the latter, is, “It’s in the Bible.” And it is in this case.
1. The Vague Argument
Many recognize that getting married in a church is different from not getting married in a church. This difference is not merely in the physical location and the wedding photos but something more, that perhaps getting married in a church may come with some sort of blessing.
This does beg the question of the definition of “christian” and “church” but that is another discussion. The point is that such recognition, however vague, is already an admission that it is something like a Sacrament—the broadest definition being “the mechanism by which God effects graces for the benefit of humanity with the end purpose of Salvation”.
2. The Scriptural Argument
Below is an excerpt from Apostle St Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians 5:25–32. In this part of the letter, he is giving advice regarding marriage. This is the classic text that supports the argument.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the church, and delivered himself up for it: That he might sanctify it, cleansing it by the laver of water in the word of life: That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy, and without blemish. So also ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife, loveth himself. For no man ever hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, as also Christ doth the church: Because we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall be two in one flesh. This is a great sacrament; but I speak in Christ and in the church. [Emphasis mine.]
As one can see, St Paul states that it is a “great sacrament”. The above is the catholic Douay Rheims translation. Some may argue that other translations use something like “profound mystery” instead of “great sacrament”, but the word “sacrament” in the Greek is literally “mystery”.
More important than the translation is the concept. Before St Paul concludes with the statement that marriage is a sacrament, he mentions that it involves sanctification and cleansing.
As already mentioned, a sacrament can be broadly defined as “the mechanism by which God effects graces for the benefit of humanity with the end purpose of Salvation”. To use a different description, the mechanism uses visible signs to effect invisible graces.
So, to use Baptism as an example (since those who believe in Sacraments do not dispute that Baptism is one): it involves following a formula out of faith and obedience—in this case, saying certain words and using water—and then God gives the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, wipes away the sins and sanctifies the soul of the recipient, amongst other things.
The point is that God ultimately does it, He gives the graces, He sanctifies. These are things we cannot do. He invites us to participate and our cooperation is necessary. In a temporal and material sense, we trigger it by saying certain words and doing certain things (as instructed) but He gives it.
This pattern can be seen in matrimony where the contracting parties are required to follow a formula to effect the contract. And if it is a mere contract, then there would be grounds to argue that it is not a Sacrament.
However, St Paul mentions sanctification, something God gives. Whatever this is exactly, it is apparent from the text that marriage for the validly baptized is not a mere natural contract but a supernaturalized (or sacramentalized) contract between a man and a woman.
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