Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Matrimony in the BCP 1662 & 1928 editions

Neither The Book of Common Prayer nor The Articles of Religion regard marriage as a sacrament (even if it is “commonly called a sacrament”), but rather as an ordinance of God the Creator, an ordinance which, when properly entered into by the two parties, the Church blesses, prays for and supports. That is, two persons covenant to marry each other and are the ministers of the nuptial bond. They do this, however, in the presence of God, the Judge, who knows the secrets of all our hearts. The Church supervises the marriage ceremony and witnesses to the covenant made between them. Then through its Minister the Church bestows a blessing of God the Holy Trinity upon the couple with appropriate prayers for their well-being.

The rites in the 1662 and 1928 editions have the same basic structure and content, but the 1928 is shorter, having none of the psalms and versicles of 1662. Further, the 1928 has been edited so as to remove from it that which “Enlightenment” sensitivity in 1789 and women’s dignity in 1928 found unacceptable. Thus the “three causes for which Matrimony was ordained by God” in the Preface of 1662 are missing from that of the first American edition of 1789 (and then also of 1892 & 1928). The verb “to obey” found in the covenantal promise of the wife to the husband in 1662, 1789 and 1892 is removed from 1928. Further, the short Sermon provided in 1662, in which the relation and duties of husband and wife are declared according to the teaching of St Paul, does not occur in any of the American editions, and neither do several of the concluding prayers. Then also while 1662 clearly assumes that procreation is an essential part of marriage (unless age or infirmity prevent) 1928 is much less clear and actually requires no statement or prayer concerning the duty of procreation (the one prayer for children is optional).

Therefore we find that a very clear doctrine of “headship” of the husband is both presupposed and declared in 1662 whilst in 1928, though there is a priority given to the man—he coming first in responding to the questions—the “headship” is minimized in nature and scope, so that unless you are looking for it you will not find it. Also, the hesitation or even refusal of 1928 to declare that procreation is a godly duty points to the context of the growing use of artificial birth-control (which in 1930, pressed by American Bishops, the Lambeth Conference endorsed—much to the horror of the Pope and the Vatican!).

It seems to be a natural development—given the growing secularization and liberalization of The Episcopal Church in the twentieth century—from this 1928 text to the Marriage Service in the 1979 Episcopal Prayer Book, where, as would expect, there is no sign of male headship, where procreation is presented as a choice, where the use of artificial birth control is assumed and where the possibility of divorce and remarriage in church is taken for granted. It seems that once the church gives up a high doctrine of marriage it quickly moves to affirming a minimal one. Of course, neither in 1928 nor in the 1979 Prayer Book is there any hint whatsoever of same-sex marriage.

What then are the “three causes for which Matrimony was ordained”? Here they are from the 1662 edition:

First, it was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nature of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy name.

Secondly, it was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ’s body.

Thirdly, it was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.

Though the Canadian edition of 1962 did not follow the example of 1928 and remove these statements completely, it did revise them to read:

Matrimony was ordained for the hallowing of the union betwixt man and woman; for the procreation of children to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord; and for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, in both prosperity and adversity.

This or course avoids the reference to the “negative cause,” the disordered soul of man, the reality of human nature as we know it. Like the 1928 the Canadian 1962 has removed obedience from the promise of the woman to the man.

It would appear that 1662 is so anti-cultural today (even if it is rendered into a suitable form of contemporary English) that few would want to use it—the man because he is embarrassed to have his wife obey him and the woman because she wants a marriage of equals.

The Revd Dr. Peter Toon M.A., D.Phil (Oxford)

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