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1 - The First Integrative Visions of Christian Marriage and Family Life

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 April 2019

John Witte, Jr.
Emory University, Atlanta


Church, State, and Family
Reconciling Traditional Teachings and Modern Liberties
, pp. 18 - 42
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2019

The early Christian family was the “Greco-Roman family with a twist.”Footnote 1 Christianity emerged in a Greco-Roman legal culture that defined lawful marriage as “the union of a man and a woman, a partnership for the whole of life, involving divine as well as human law.”Footnote 2 Some early Roman jurists called marriage an “inseparable communion” and “a sacred and enduring union” to be “voluntarily contracted” for the sake of “marital affection” and the “propagation of offspring.”Footnote 3 They regarded family life as “an honorable and desirable condition … that ensured the continuation of the human race and provided a sort of communal immortality” for Rome and the extended families (familiae) that constituted it.Footnote 4

Christianity adopted these basic Greco-Roman teachings on the family, weaving them into its early theology and canon law. But Christianity also refined and reformed these teachings in an effort to make marriages and families more egalitarian, more exclusive, and more enduring. Roman law forced men to choose between a concubine and a wife; they could not have both. Early Christianity denounced concubinage altogether, requiring Christians either to marry or to remain single. Roman law maintained a sexual double standard, forbidding wives to commit adultery but allowing husbands to indulge with impunity in sex with prostitutes and slaves. Christianity called Christian husbands and wives alike to remain faithful to each other exclusively. Roman law allowed husbands and wives to file for divorce for cause and remarry thereafter. Christianity sharply restricted divorce and denounced second marriages of divorced persons until the death of their former spouse. Roman law encouraged widows and widowers to remarry after a year. Christianity discouraged remarriage of the widowed, especially if repeated. Roman law allowed the sale or exposure of unwanted infants. Christianity denounced child enslavement and infanticide. Roman law permitted nonmarital sex, prostitution, sodomy, mixed bathing, transvestism, immoderate dress, and more. Christianity called the faithful to “flee fornication” and labeled these activities “sexual sins” that triggered spiritual discipline, even excommunication, if done flagrantly and without repentance.Footnote 5

Despite these teachings, however, during its first four centuries, the church did not develop a systematic theology of marriage and family life. Indeed, several Church Fathers in both the East and the West praised the spiritual virtues of celibacy and chastity over the carnal activities of sex and marriage.Footnote 6 In the later fourth century, however, both the Greek Fathers following St. John Chrysostom and the Latin Fathers following St. Augustine of Hippo developed more complex and multidimensional theologies of marriage. They reflected deeply on the natural and spiritual dimensions of marriage and added new reflections on its social, economic, sacramental, and communicative dimensions. They elaborated on the functions and ends of marriage – the goods and goals of procreation, faithfulness, friendship, love, and mutual support that marriage affords to couples, the church, and the community. Chrysostom’s attention to the goods of sexual, economic, and verbal communication between spouses, and his emphasis on the relative equality of wives and husbands within their respective spheres of household and public life, eventually led the Eastern church to embrace and affirm marriage even for Christian clergy and for couples who could not procreate. Augustine’s emphasis on the sacramental qualities of marriage affirmed the temporal and spiritual goods of marriage and family life but also emphasized the superiority of celibacy, the indissoluble character of marriage, and the perils of divorce and remarriage. Chrysostom and Augustine together laid the foundation on which the West would build its sacramental and covenantal models of marriage and in time would reform the family laws of both church and state.

John Chrysostom and the Emerging Eastern Orthodox Tradition

John Chrysostom (ca. 345–407) was born in Antioch, a city that prized its Greek past and celebrated both the asceticism of its philosophers and the libertinism of its commoners. As a young man, Chrysostom was attracted to asceticism. He lived for a time as a hermit in the Syrian countryside and wrote tracts on the virtues of Christian chastity and virginity.Footnote 7 For reasons of health, however, he forsook the ascetic life and returned to the city, becoming a priest and later the bishop of Constantinople. In his priestly capacity especially, he developed a robust, companionate view of faithful Christian marriage contrary to the relaxed sexual mores and patriarchy typical of Antiochian society. He expounded his views in a series of sermons and pamphlets on the famous passages on marriage in Genesis 1–2, Matthew 19, 1 Corinthians 7, and Ephesians 5. While he probed the theological mysteries of marriage with acuity and originality, his tone was also pastoral, guiding the faithful with practical wisdom and calling laity and clergy alike to embrace the ideals and ethics of Christian marriage.

Contrary to the celibate ascetics of Antioch, Chrysostom declared that marriage is a good, useful, and enduring creation and blessing of God. Already in Paradise, he argued, God brought the first man and the first woman together. God created the first couple as social creatures, naturally inclined and attracted to each other. God gave them the physical capacity to join together and beget children. God commanded them to love, help, and nurture each other, and to inculcate in each other and in their children the love of God, neighbor, and self. These duties and qualities of marriage continued after humanity’s fall into sin. After the fall, however, marriage also became a balm to incontinence and lust. Rather than allowing sinful persons to burn with lust, Chrysostom reasoned, God provided the remedy of marriage and thus channeled humans’ natural drives and passions into the service and love of their spouses, children, and broader communities. God had two reasons for commending marriage, Chrysostom said in summary: “to make us chaste, and to make us parents. Of these two, the reason of chastity takes precedence. When desire began, then marriage also began. It sets a limit to desire by teaching us to keep one wife.” Marriage became God’s natural “remedy to eliminate fornication.”Footnote 8

For Christians, marriage is not just a form of “fleshly passion” or “bodily union,” however. It is also a type of “spiritual birth” or “spiritual union,” a distinct way of participating in the life and body of Christ, which is the church. That is what St. Paul meant in Ephesians 5:32, where he called marriage “a great mystery” (mysterion). Chrysostom repeated the patristic commonplace that marriage is a reflection and expression of the union of Christ and the church. “The household is a little church,” he declared to his Antioch congregants. If your marriage imitates the loving and sacrificial relationship of Christ and his church, “your perfection will rival the holiness of monks.”Footnote 9

But the great mystery of marriage goes beyond the symbolic parallels between husband and wife, Christ and the church, Chrysostom insisted. Marriage is also a symbolic bridge between flesh and spirit, between the creation of God and the incarnation of Christ. Indeed, “when husband and wife are united in marriage, they are no longer seen as something earthly, but as the image of God himself.” The union of a Christian couple in marriage reflects and celebrates the mysterious work of God the Father at creation, his “ingenuity in the beginning of dividing one flesh into two” by creating “Eve from the rib of Adam.” Yet God wanted our male and female natures “to remain one even after its division, so He made it impossible for either half to procreate without the other.” Christian marriage is thus the mirror image of our creation as male and female. It is a reunion of what God divided at creation yet wanted reunited for men and women to “be fruitful and multiply.” As such, Christian marriage symbolizes the mystery of the creation.Footnote 10

Christian marriage also symbolizes the mystery of the incarnation. The union of a Christian couple in “one flesh” and “one spirit” reflects and participates in the mysterious dual nature of Christ himself. Christ is a God who became a man, a spirit who took upon himself human flesh. Christian marriage is a mirror image, a reverse reflection of this miracle of the incarnation. It elevates the life of the flesh into the life of the spirit. “Paul does well here to talk of flesh and bones” in comparing our marriages with the incarnation, Chrysostom declared. “For the Lord has exalted our material substance by partaking of it Himself,” by “loving, redeeming, and elevating” our human nature, by showing us how the life of the flesh can be united with the life of the spirit.Footnote 11 That is what a loving Christian marriage helps a man and woman to achieve and experience. It is a great and gracious mystery that Christ “left the Father and came down to us, and married His bride the Church, and became one spirit with her.” It is likewise “a great mystery that a man should leave him who gave life to him and brought him up and her who suffered in labor and childbirth … and be united to one whom he has not always known and who often has nothing in common with him, and should honor her above all others.” “This is not a human accomplishment,” Chrysostom wrote. “It is God who sows love in men and women. He causes both those who give in marriage and those who are married to do this with joy. Therefore Paul said, ‘This is a great mystery’.”Footnote 12

We see this divine mystery of marriage reflected in all kinds of daily ways, Chrysostom continued, trying to make his lofty theological reflections on marriage more concrete and immediate for his congregants. Think of the warmth of new love, “the quickening of your heart and soul” when you see and find your true mate. Think of the joy of weddings, where parents gladly spend their life savings in celebration of their child’s marriage. “A father rejoices to see his son or daughter marry; it is as if his child’s body is finally becoming complete.” Think of the wonder of your wedding night, becoming utterly visible and vulnerable to your spouse in the tenderness of first union. Think of the love that overcomes you once you are married, how you gladly work and sacrifice for your spouse, even to the point of giving up your life to protect your family. Husband and wife love each other utterly and completely, “not merely because they share the same nature; no, the obligation is far greater, because they are no longer two bodies but one.” All this goes well beyond rational calculus and fleshly appetite. It reflects the spiritual nature, the divine mystery of marriage.Footnote 13

To experience these higher dimensions of marriage, however, Christians must adopt moral discipline and discernment, Chrysostom insisted. He used his Antioch pulpit to help guide and sculpt his congregants’ households and relationships, frequently instructing his congregants about their courtships, weddings, and married lives. If a man craves female companionship, he said, the man must court a woman properly, and not turn to prostitutes, concubines, or loose women. During courtship, couples should respect each other’s virtue, chastity, and wishes. Their families, in turn, should respect their preferences and not pressure them into unwanted unions or subject them to pushy matchmakers. Courting couples should look for piety, modesty, faithfulness, and other “virtues of the soul” in their potential mate, and not be seduced by wealth, beauty, social standing, or economic advantage. “Marriage is not a business venture but a fellowship for life,” and “a beautiful soul in one’s mate is the exceeding wealth, the great treasure, the endless good” of marriage. Chrysostom was dismayed at how often this simple ideal of Christian courtship was compromised by his Antioch congregants. “Who, when about to marry, inquires about the disposition and nature of the damsel? No one; but straightaway about money, and possessions, and measures of property of various and different kinds: like as if he were about to buy something, or to settle some common contract.” To reduce courtship to such crass commercial calculation is an “insult to the gifts of God” in creating marriage, Chrysostom argued. Marriage is certainly a contract that can and should involve prudent and thorough negotiations between the couples and their families about engagement gifts, dowries, household management, testamentary provisions, and more. But the marital contract must be a consequence of proper courtship, not a substitute for it.Footnote 14

If a courting couple decides to go forward with marriage, they should celebrate their wedding publicly and properly, Chrysostom continued. On the eve of their wedding feast, the couple should receive the “blessing of the priest” at home in the presence of their parents and families at least. The bride should be “garlanded” with a veil and crowned with flowers. The presiding priest should offer “prayers,” “thanksgivings and hymns” for the couple. This religious ceremony should remain separate from its more worldly celebration the next day.Footnote 15

Christians may certainly have wedding feasts, as their financial means allow. After all, Jesus himself graced a wedding feast in Cana and there performed his first miracle, changing water into wine. He also used the wedding feast as an ongoing metaphor for the kingdom of God. Wedding feasts are welcome, joyous, and festive occasions for Christians, but they should not be vulgar or vain. Chrysostom thundered loudly and repeatedly against the excesses and paganism of some wedding feasts of his day and warned his congregants to resist such immodesty and irreverence:

Throw out the lewd songs, the corrupt melodies, the disorderly dances, the uproar, … the hymns to Aphrodite, songs full of adultery, corruption of marriages, illicit loves, unlawful unions, and many other impious and shameful themes … When you invoke demons by your songs, when you fulfill their desires by your shameful speeches, when you bring mimes and effeminate actors and the whole theater into your house, and when you fill your house with harlots and arrange for the whole chorus of demons to make merry there, what good can you expect?Footnote 16

A Christian marriage, once properly formed and celebrated, must be marked by “constant and open communication,” Chrysostom continued. An essential component is open sexual communication between the spouses. That should begin on the first night of married life, where Chrysostom counseled sexual consummation of the new union but also urged the husband, especially, to show “gentleness, temperance, and self-control,” given his new wife’s vulnerability. Thereafter, each spouse was to yield to the proper sexual needs and advances of the other and abstain from sex only by mutual consent, and then only temporarily. As St. Paul made clear in his talk of “conjugal rights and debts,” said Chrysostom, “neither husband nor wife is his or her own master, but rather they are each other’s servants” in matters of sexual and bodily care and needs. “Husband and wife are equally responsible for the honor of their marriage bed.” And to deprive one’s spouse of sex for no reason is to defraud the other and to risk becoming an accessory to his or her adultery. There should be joy and delight in marital sex; “their intercourse affects the joining of their bodies, and they are made one, just as when perfume is mixed with ointment.” They should not be “ashamed at what is honorable or blush at what is undefiled.” Marital sex is good in its own right, and it should be celebrated, regardless of whether it yields children. It becomes even better if it does produce a child. “The child is a bridge connecting mother to father, so the three become one flesh.”Footnote 17

A Christian marriage was to feature not only open sexual communication but also open financial communication. The two kinds of communication were linked, in Chrysostom’s view: “if neither husband nor wife has power over their own bodies, they have even less control over their money” and property. Their respective bodies and their properties are united in marriage, and each “owns,” invests in, and depends on the other’s life, labor, and livelihood. Though each party brings different types and amounts of property into the marriage and contributes different labor and material to the household, their marital estate is now joint or common property. Both husband and wife should thus deliberate and decide together how, where, and in what way the marital property should be used. Once you are married, “you certainly cannot call your money your own.” You should “abandon this notion of ‘mine’ and ‘yours.’ You each have the other’s body and the other’s possessions as well.” Particularly the husband, Chrysostom pointedly warned, should not seek to squander or monopolize the dowry that his wife’s family contributed to their marriage, let alone divorce or kill his wife to seize her dowry. Nor should he lord it over his wife because he brings income to the household, which she merely manages and uses. Both the property the husband brings home and the labor the wife expends within the household are of value to the marriage, he said, anticipating our modern recognition of the immense value of household labor of the stay-at-home spouse, even if that labor is not often monetized during the marriage.Footnote 18

Chrysostom thought it wise for husband and wife to divide their responsibilities for marital property and defer to each other’s leadership in their respective “spheres of activities.” He repeated the traditional Greco-Roman view that the man occupies the “public sphere” of commerce and the marketplace, while the woman occupies the “private sphere” of the household and childcare. He also repeated the traditional Christian view that the husband is the head of his wife, just as Christ is the head of the church. “The wife is a second authority,” “the lieutenant,” within the marriage, he wrote. “She should not demand equality” with her husband in all things, “for she is subject to the head; neither should the husband belittle her subjection, for she is the body.” “A household cannot be a democracy, ruled by everyone; the authority must necessarily rest in one person.”Footnote 19

In matters of marital property, however, as in matters of marital sexuality, a wife “possesses real authority and equality of dignity,” Chrysostom continued. When it comes to daily management of the household, the wife rules, and the husband should defer to her leadership.

If God had made man capable in both areas, it would have been easy for men to despise womankind. If, on the other hand, God assigned the greater and more important matters to women, he would have filled women with presumption. For this reason, He did not give both spheres to one sex, lest the other seem inferior and superfluous. Neither did He assign both spheres to each sex equally, lest from equality of honor there should arise strife and contention … God provided for peace by reserving the suitable position for each.Footnote 20

Beyond open sexual and financial communication, Chrysostom emphasized daily verbal communication and affirmation of one’s spouse. This was especially important for the husband, who might be tempted to think that male headship within marriage is a license for domestic tyranny over his cowering wife and household. The exact opposite is true, said Chrysostom. In imitation of Christ, the husband is to be gentle, patient, forgiving, and sacrificial toward his wife. “Do you want your wife to be obedient to you, as the church is to Christ?” Chrysostom challenged the men of Antioch. “Then be responsible for the same providential care of her, as Christ has for the church. And even if it becomes necessary for you to give your life for her, yes, and even to endure and undergo suffering of any kind, do not refuse.” Moreover, be loving and sacrificial in countless small ways in daily life. Don’t merely avoid the temptations of prostitutes, concubines, taverns, and games. Don’t just avoid quarrels and fights, harsh words, and physical violence within your home. Don’t simply go to church, give thanks over meals, or pray together at bedtime. Don’t just exercise honesty and loyalty in all your dealings on behalf of your wife and family. All those behaviors are good, but they fulfill only the minimum requirements of a Christian husband, said Chrysostom. True marital love among Christians requires “constant” and “untiring love” for your wife. Shower her with “affection, kindness, and your great regard for her … Show her that you value her company and prefer being at home to being out. Esteem her in the presence of your friends and children. Praise and show admiration for her good acts … Never call her by name alone but with terms of endearment, honor, and love.” Bring her gifts of love. Later in your life together, “don’t turn your back on your wife because she is not beautiful” anymore. She is “God’s good creation,” so learn to prize her “inward beauty” if childbirth, age, sickness, and strain have diminished her outward beauty. “Suffer anything for her sake, but never disgrace her, for Christ never did this with the church.”Footnote 21

Christian marriages that feature such open and loving communication are the “greatest blessing” a man and woman can enjoy. Chrysostom sounded this theme over and over in extolling the virtues of marriage.

There is no influence more powerful than the bond of love, especially for husband and wife … Nothing, nothing whatever, is more precious than to be loved by a wife, and to love her … There is no relationship between human beings that is so close as that of husband and wife, if they are united as they ought to be … The love of husband and wife is the force that welds society together … Because when harmony prevails, the children are raised well, the household is kept in order, and neighbors and relatives praise the result. Great benefits, both for families and states, are thus produced.Footnote 22

The two spouses try to eradicate every cause for sorrow, to reinforce the harmony of the family and make it grow … Two souls united thus have nothing to fear either from present circumstances or future events. When there is harmony, peace and mutual love, the man and his wife already possess everything good. No preoccupation vexes them, and they can live serene behind the impregnable fortifications, which protect them, namely harmony in conformity with God. For that reason they are harder than diamonds and tougher than steel. They walk with a firm step on the road to eternal life, enjoying the continual increase of divine grace. I urge you; let us place harmony above all good things, and undertake with all our strength to maintain peace and tranquility in our homes.Footnote 23

Chrysostom’s robust companionate view of marriage was more elaborate and positive than that of most other Greek Church Fathers. For him, marriage was an association at once natural and spiritual, contractual and liturgical, economic and communicative. God had created and commended marriage for all fit adults, save those with the unique gift of continence. The marital household was a vital site of worship and work, of piety and pietas, of companionship and communication, of happiness and holiness.

Chrysostom had a distinct understanding of the spiritual dimensions of marriage. Particularly striking were his views of marriage as a symbolic bridge between flesh and spirit, and between creation and incarnation, as well as his emphasis on the need for both liturgical and civil celebrations of weddings. These spiritual qualities of marriage would figure prominently in later Orthodox theological teachings on marriage as a Christian sacrament of love.Footnote 24 These qualities were further celebrated in the ornate church liturgies of marriage that became commonplace in Orthodox lands after the sixth century and were made mandatory after the ninth century. Orthodox marital liturgies featured a lush blend of special prayers and blessings drawn from Scripture, the crowning of the couple and celebration of the Eucharist, the exchange of rings and vows, and the circular procession called “the dance of Isaiah” – all performed with a lavish pomp and ceremony that persists in many Orthodox marriage services to this day.Footnote 25

Chrysostom also had a distinct understanding of the natural and material goods of marriage for the couple, the church, and the community alike. Against the muscular patriarchy of some of his Antioch congregants, he counseled mutual tenderness and fidelity between husband and wife, mutual sacrifice and communication in their daily lives, and “equality of dignity” in the marital household. Against the showy asceticism of some of his fellow theologians and philosophers, Chrysostom counseled that marriage is a good institution, a valuable opportunity for Christian love and service that God has commended for all fit adults, clergy and laity alike. Marriage is “God’s natural remedy for sin,” he believed, a protection against the temptations of lust, an institution to channel and school one’s natural passions. Those who spurned this natural remedy and fell into sexual sin, and those who dismissed a married couple as weak and impious, were ultimately insulting God, the creator of marriage. Such affirmations of marriage would figure prominently in later Orthodox theological reflections and canon law directives on marriage and family life. Eastern Orthodox Christians distinguished themselves from Western Catholics both in robustly celebrating Christian marriage for all fit adults, and in specifically encouraging their regular clergy to be married.Footnote 26

Finally, Chrysostom was unique in emphasizing the essential communicative dimensions between a husband and a wife, who were equal in dignity even if distinct in responsibility. This insight went beyond traditional teachings. The belief that marriage is for the mutual comfort and assistance of husband and wife was commonplace among both classical and biblical writers. So was the idea that marriage is a special form of friendship, an opportunity to serve and sacrifice for one’s spouse and children. Chrysostom added the teaching that marital couples must learn to develop the actual communicative and intersubjective skills needed to implement this ethic of marital love and friendship in the countless small decisions of everyday life. His concrete pastoral insights into what it takes to develop discerning courtship skills and durable marital habits anticipated by many centuries some of the keenest insights of the modern movement of marriage and family education, therapy, and pastoral care.

Augustine and the Emerging Western Tradition

While John Chrysostom, the pastor of Antioch, set the tone for the marital teachings of Eastern Orthodoxy, Augustine,Footnote 27 the bishop of Hippo, set the tone for the marital teachings of Western Catholicism and, later, parts of Protestantism as well. While confirming many of the same marital themes as Chrysostom, Augustine was markedly cooler in his treatment of marital sex, notably briefer in his discussions of the proper habits of courtship, communication, and consortium of husband and wife, and silent on the need for weddings and marital liturgies. But Augustine offered a more systematic treatment of the essential goods and goals of marriage, and this teaching would have an enduring influence on Western Christianity.

Augustine came to Christianity only after immersing himself in various Manichaean, Stoic, Skeptic, Platonic, and other philosophies. Moreover, he came to a Christian understanding of marriage and family life only after what he later described as a rather profligate youth, including keeping a concubine and fathering a son with her.Footnote 28 After his conversion to Christianity in 386, however, he resolved to lead a pious and celibate life and to distinguish Christian teachings from what he now considered the heretical and pagan beliefs of his youth, including those about sex, marriage, and family life. He became a parish priest in 391 and bishop of Hippo in North Africa in 395. Over the next three decades, he penned a staggering number of works on Christian theology, philosophy, and ethics, many of which would become foundational texts for Western Christianity. He peppered many of these writings with keen insights into the origin, nature, and function of marriage and family life. His fullest expositions came in his tracts On the Good of Marriage (ca. 401),Footnote 29 On Marriage and Concupiscence (ca. 419),Footnote 30 and On Adulterous Marriages (419).Footnote 31

Augustine sought to define a middle way between the robustly pro-marriage teachings of a Roman monk named Jovinian and the stridently anti-marriage teachings of Jovinian’s many opponents. Jovinian had stirred great controversy in Rome in the 380s when he described marriage and nonmarriage as equal in merit and virtue when faithfully pursued by baptized Christians. He also had criticized sharply other Church Fathers who had converted St. Paul’s instruction about celibacy in 1 Corinthians 7 into a strong preference for virginity, celibacy, and chastity over marriage – sometimes to the point of outright opposition to sexual intercourse and even to marriage itself. Jovinian’s views sparked instant denunciation from various church councils and from such distinguished Church Fathers as Jerome and Ambrose. Their diatribes against Jovinian sometimes treated marriage and marital sex as inferior and irrational, if not outright sinful and scandalous for pious Christians. Their anti-marriage sentiments rested atop an already ample stack of anti-marriage writings by Manicheans, Encratites, Pelagians, various earlier Church Fathers, and Greco-Roman authors in the four centuries before Augustine.Footnote 32

Augustine steered a middle course between these two extremes. Like Chrysostom, Augustine regarded marriage as a God-given “natural society” created for the procreation of children and the protection of couples from sexual sin and governed by what he called “a secret law of nature.” He called marriage the most “intimate and sincere” form of “human fellowship,” “an order of charity,” “a faithful friendship,” “a friendly and true union,” “a fellowship of faith,” a “bond of love” that fostered “domestic peace” and “household bliss” if properly nurtured and maintained. He insisted that couples continue to “remain permanently joined” in body, mind, and property, abstain from sexual intercourse only by mutual consent “for the sake of the Lord,” avoid unnecessary separation from bed and board for fear of sexual temptation, and reject the easy divorce available in Mosaic and Roman law. Like Aristotle, the Stoics, and the Roman jurists, in turn, Augustine called marriage “the first natural bond of human society,” “the first step in the organization of men,” the “first school” of justice, virtue, and order – a veritable “seedbed of the republic.” When marriage is properly formed by “a publicly attested contract,” one that is “read in the presence of all attesting witnesses,” Augustine wrote, it provides a disciplined and “orderly lifestyle” that anticipates and “ministers to the ordered agreement concerning command and agreement among citizens.”Footnote 33

Marriage is a good institution, Augustine continued, even if celibacy might be better for those who have the gift of continence. Marriage is not a lesser form of sin than fornication. That would be like calling health a lesser evil than sickness. Rather, “marriage and continence are two goods, whereof the second is better,” just as “health and immortality are two goods, whereof the second is better.” God created marriage before the fall into sin and enjoined men and women to join together “in one flesh” and to “be fruitful and multiply.” Those original goods and goals of marriage continued after the fall. “When a woman is lawfully united to her husband in accordance with the true constitution of marriage, and they remain faithful to what is due, and the flesh is kept free from the sin of adultery and children are lawfully conceived, it is actually the very same marriage which God instituted at the beginning.” As a creation and gift of God, marriage is a “great and natural good.”Footnote 34

Distilling and integrating earlier classical and patristic teachings, Augustine wrote that marriage in fact offers three interrelated goods: (1) the procreation and nurture of children (proles); (2) the faithfulness of spouses toward each other (fides); and (3) the sacramental stability of the marital household within the City of God (sacramentum). The goods of children and fidelity are taught by the natural law and known to all persons. The good of sacrament is known principally through Scripture and is a distinct (though not necessarily exclusive) quality of a Christian marriage.Footnote 35 These three goods of marriage are mutually reinforcing, Augustine insisted, and together help create an integrated understanding of marriage.

The first good of marriage is children (proles). Procreation is a perennial and natural duty of humankind, Augustine maintained, and marriage is the proper institution for discharging that duty. Each generation must produce children for the human race to survive and for the City of God to grow. In the world of the Old Testament, when the earth was nearly empty, this duty of procreation bound everyone. Mosaic law thus made no provision for celibacy or the virginal life. Nor did it insist on monogamous marriage, leading some early patriarchs and kings to embrace concubinage and polygamy, albeit at their peril. In the new dispensation after Christ, however, with the earth greatly populated, procreation has been confined exclusively to marital couples, and marriage itself has become optional. Marriage remains a good vocation, but as St. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 7, the better course for those who are widowed or naturally continent is to pursue spiritual goods without domestic distractions.Footnote 36

Before the fall into sin, Augustine continued, humans could procreate innocently – perhaps even “sexlessly,” he mused in his early writings before abandoning this view as “unnatural.” Since the fall into sin, however, human sexuality, like all of human nature, has been corrupted. Lust pervades every human act, and the libido has become unruly, “animalistic,” and indiscriminate in the objects of its desire. God provides marriage to school fallen desire, to pardon sexual sinfulness, and to direct the natural but corrupted passions of a man and a woman to the good of procreation. Indeed, once they become parents, “the lust of their flesh is repressed, being tempered by parental affection. When they become a father and mother, husband and wife unite more closely.” Their lust for others is blunted by the “glowing pleasure” of rearing their own children together. Children are thus a marital good in two complementary ways. They are the good fruit born of what could otherwise be the sexual sins of their parents. And their very presence in the household tempers the destructive temptations to lust and sin by their parents. Marriage channels the procreation of children. Children foster the preservation of marriage.Footnote 37

Children are, in this sense, a “natural good of marriage,” a “palpable blessing of nature,” that complements the other goods of fidelity and sacrament, said Augustine. This first good of marriage is evident even among animals governed by the natural law. Sundry animals and birds “preserve a certain kind of federation of pairs, and a social combination of skill” in building their nests, protecting their infants, rearing their offspring, and driving away rival adults. Similarly, among human beings governed by the natural law, “males and females are united together as associates for procreation, and consequently do not defraud each other” but develop “a natural abhorrence for a fraudulent companion.”Footnote 38

The marital household is the proper place to bear and raise children, Augustine continued, whether they are one’s biological or adopted children.Footnote 39 Both parents, with the help of their extended families, friends, nurses, and servants, are to feed, clothe, protect, discipline, and educate their children and prepare them for independent lives as adults. Christian parents, Augustine emphasized, have to pay special attention to the spiritual welfare of their children, “imbuing them” with the sacramental life of the church. For all children are “conceived and born in sin,” and even newborn infants carry the contagion of the original sin of Adam and Eve.Footnote 40 The sacraments, beginning with infant baptism, provide remedies for sin and relief from its threats of divine condemnation. “For no other reason are infants carried by pious hands [of their parents] to Jesus, that is to Christ, Savior and Physician, than that they be healed of the plague of their sin by the medication of his sacraments.”Footnote 41

Second, marriage offers not only the good of children but also the good of fidelity between husband and wife. While children help foster fidelity in marriage, fidelity is also a good of marriage in its own right and a sufficient natural good if the couple is not blessed with children.

[Marriage] does not seem to me to be a good solely because of the procreation of children, but also because of the natural companionship between the two sexes. Otherwise, we could not speak of marriage in the case of old people, especially if they had either lost their children or had begotten none at all. But, in a good marriage, although one of many years, even if the ardor of youth has cooled between man and woman, the order of charity still flourishes between husband and wife. … [T]here is observed that promise of respect and of services due to each other by either sex, even though both members weaken in health and become almost corpse-like, the chastity of souls rightly joined together continues the purer, the more it has been proved, and the more secure, the more it has been calmed.Footnote 42

In expounding this second good of fidelity, Augustine focused especially on the need for sexual fidelity between husband and wife. Glossing St. Paul’s discussions of a couple’s “conjugal debt” in 1 Corinthians 7 and his call to mutuality in Ephesians 5, Augustine emphasized that marriage gives husband and wife equal power over each other’s body, equal right to demand that the other avoid adultery, and equal claim to the “service, in a certain measure, of sustaining each other’s weakness, for the avoidance of illicit intercourse.” Marriage is “a contract of sexual fidelity,” said Augustine, and couples could and should maintain active sexual lives for “the larger good of continence,” even if procreation is not or is no longer possible. To be sure, it is better for couples to avoid sex altogether if they can no longer procreate. But it is better to remain sexually active than to court the temptations of lust and adultery. Sex within marriage when lustfully pursued is a minor sin, but adultery in betrayal of marriage is a mortal sin. Marriage is furthermore a “hard knot” that should not be “unloosed,” even if the couple proves barren or if one spouse strays into adultery or loses sexual or physical capacity. The marital good of fidelity calls for acceptance of barrenness, forgiveness of fault, and resignation to the inevitable fragility and erosion of age.Footnote 43

Third, among Christians, marriage offers not only the goods of procreation and fidelity, but also the good of a “sacrament.” For Christians, marriage is not only a natural union of couples into “one flesh” for the good of “being fruitful and multiplying,” as Genesis 1 and 2 provided. Nor is it only a “contract of sexual fidelity,” that should not be “rent asunder,” except in the case of adultery, as Matthew 19 taught. For Christians, marriage is also a reflection and expression of the enduring sacrificial love that Christ has for his church, described in Ephesians 5. “Accordingly,” Augustine wrote, “the Apostle commands, ‘Husbands, love your wives even as Christ also loved the church.’ Of this bond, the essence of the sacrament (res sacramenti) is undoubtedly that the man and the woman who are joined together in marriage should remain inseparable as long as they live.”Footnote 44

Going beyond the marital metaphors of Jesus and St. Paul, Augustine treated the mysterious union of Christ the bridegroom with his bride the church as the very paradigm of marriage, the marriage par excellence, which every human marriage should seek to imitate. He treated each marriage between Christian believers as a miniature version of this great divine marriage, a visible expression of this invisible mystery, this sacramentum. “It was said in Paradise before sin: ‘A man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and they will be two in one flesh,’ which the Apostle says is a ‘great sacrament in Christ and in the Church.’ Therefore what is great in Christ and in the Church is very small in individual husbands and wives, but is nevertheless a sacrament of an inseparable union.”Footnote 45

The sacramental good of marriage confirms the marital goods that natural law provides, but also curbs the sexual sins that natural law permits. The natural law permits any fit and able adults to join together for the good of procreation. The sacrament of marriage, however, as a symbol of Christ’s union with his faithful church, commands that only baptized, faithful Christians join together in marriage within the City of God, an injunction against interreligious marriage already anticipated in the covenant laws of ancient Israel. Similarly, the natural law of Paradise taught that the “two shall become one flesh.” Yet many ancient patriarchs, operating under the natural law, practiced polygamy for the sake of producing many children and heirs. So do many higher animals that gather in large groups of one male with several females and their offspring. The sacrament of marriage, as a symbol of Christ’s union with his one true church, calls Christians to return to the primeval natural law of monogamy and to spurn polygamy, concubinage, and sexual unions with anyone but one’s spouse.Footnote 46 Finally, the natural law teaches parents to remain faithful to each other for the sake of their children who need them, but allows for separation when there are no children. The ancient patriarchs, operating under both the natural law and the Mosaic law, thus practiced divorce and remarriage, particularly when their wives proved barren. So do many animals that drive out mates who cannot produce offspring. The sacrament of marriage, in imitation of God’s eternal faithfulness to his elect, calls Christians to remain faithful to their spouses to the end, regardless of their procreative capacity. “For this is what is preserved ‘in Christ and in the Church’: that they should live together for eternity with no divorce. The observance of this sacrament is so great … in the Church of Christ and in each and every married believer, for they are without doubt Christ’s members, that even when women marry or men take wives ‘for the sake of procreating children’, a man is not allowed to put away a barren wife in order to take another, fruitful one.”Footnote 47

The sacramental good of marriage confirms the good of fidelity in the marriage contract but also goes beyond it. Earlier Church Fathers had occasionally used the term sacramentum to describe the “solemn vow,” “binding pledge,” and “spiritual commitment” demanded of a Christian marriage.Footnote 48 Augustine sometimes used the term sacramentum in this way, too. But this usage largely repeated his formulation of the second good of fidelity (fides), which marks all marriages. The deeper quality of a Christian sacramental marriage, Augustine argued, lay in its being also a “covenant” (foedus), a “bond” (vinculum), or a “bond of covenant” (vinculum foederis). When contracted between Christians, he wrote, “marriage bears a kind of sacred bond,” like the eternal bond between Christ and his church. Even if a Christian couple does not produce children, even if they separate and divorce, even if one of them purports to marry another, “there remains between the partners as long as they live some conjugal thing [quiddam coniugale] that neither separation nor remarriage can remove.” “So enduring, in fact, are the rights of marriage between those [Christians] who have contracted them, that they remain husband and wife” even if they divorce and marry others. The sacrament of marriage ends only when one spouse dies.Footnote 49

In this sense, but only in this sense, Augustine argued, marriage is like the sacrament of baptism. A person baptized by the church remains a child of God, even if that person is excommunicated from the church and is never reconciled to God. The promise of the sacrament of baptism remains with that person until death because “God never dies,” and the covenant seal given in baptism is indelible. So also, said Augustine, two Christians who marry remain spouses, even if they divorce on grounds of adultery and never reconcile.

But the symmetry between marriage and baptism goes no further than this. Augustine did not say, as Thomas Aquinas and other later Catholic medieval theologians would say, that a Christian marriage remains indissoluble because God’s mysterious union with his church is permanent, even if its members fall into sin.Footnote 50 Nor did he say, as later Protestant theologians would assert, that Christian marriage is presumptively permanent – just as Yahweh’s covenantal bond with Israel is enduring, despite Israel’s proclivity for “playing the harlot.”Footnote 51 For Augustine, it was not divine participation in marriage that made a Christian marriage permanent – God holding the married couple together despite their divorce, just as God holds the baptized sinner fast despite sin or excommunication. Nor did Augustine claim that the permanence of marriage rested in its divine quality as a representation of the union of Christ and his church, as Aquinas would later argue – that marriage among Christians was indissoluble because “it affects what it signifies.”Footnote 52

Augustine said that a Christian sacramental marriage is permanent, but he did not clearly say why. He just said repeatedly that among Christians the “bond of the marital contract persists in itself”; that the “conjugal thing” (the quiddam coniugale), or the “essential quality” (the res) of being married remains with each spouse, regardless of what they say or do or with whom else they join. Marriage is an ineradicable status—a permanent mark (think of a tattoo) on a married Christian man or woman. And that is what makes the virtue of fidelity in Christian marriage unique. Christians not only should remain faithful to their marriage, as the natural law teaches; they cannot help but remain married, for that is the mysterious nature, the mysterion or sacramentum, of a Christian marriage. Their marriage is a permanent status – an ontological condition – that ends only with the death of one spouse.Footnote 53

A related issue that Augustine left unresolved was how to deal with the right to divorce for adultery or desertion, which Jesus and St. Paul allowed in Matthew 19:9 and 1 Corinthians 7:15. Even if the sacrament of marriage remains indissoluble until the death of one spouse, does the bond of covenant also remain indissoluble, precluding divorce or remarriage? For Augustine, was there ultimately a difference between marriage as a sacrament that cannot be dissolved and marriage as a covenant that can be dissolved when its essence is betrayed? Moreover, had Augustine simply conflated “is” and “ought” by concluding that Christians should not exercise their rights to divorce because they could not? Augustine ultimately did not answer these questions, which would divide Catholics and Protestants in succeeding centuries.Footnote 54 Still, he provided a set of theological touchstones that later Catholic moralists and jurists would develop into the canonical Catholic doctrines prohibiting divorce and permitting remarriage only after death – doctrines that remain in place to this day.Footnote 55

In his earlier writings, Augustine followed traditional patristic readings of the “exception” clause in Matthew 19:9 and allowed divorce on the ground of adultery. He also hinted that 1 Corinthians 7:15 can be read to condone divorce on the ground of spiritual desertion. While the adulterous or deserting spouse could not remarry without committing adultery, the innocent spouse could eventually remarry with impunity. This was traditional Christian teaching by the fifth century, but it stood in tension with Augustine’s insistence that a Christian marriage remains indissoluble until the death of one spouse. In his later writings, particularly in his substantial tract On Adulterous Marriages (419), Augustine argued that a Christian operating under divine law was still permitted to divorce an adulterous or spiritually deserting spouse. But he or she could not remarry another until that spouse had died. For despite their divorce at law, the couple remained married in fact, and to marry another would be to commit adultery in violation of the indissoluble marital bond that still remained. Augustine thereby preserved the indissolubility of marriage, even if the actual relationship between husband and wife was broken. He preserved the right to divorce, but in the form of what came to be called separation from bed and board. And he preserved the right to remarriage, but only if one’s spouse had died.Footnote 56

Augustine, moreover, treated these limited rights of divorce and remarriage as concessions to human frailty that pious Christians should strive to forgo. It was best for a Christian not to divorce on any grounds and not to remarry at any time. Such rights “are lawful, but not necessarily expedient,” Augustine wrote, adducing St. Paul’s counsel of Christian prudence.Footnote 57 While the teaching of Christ allows divorce in the event of adultery, it is better for an innocent spouse to forgive and reconcile with the other, just as God forgives mortal sinners. While the counsels of Paul permit a pious believer to “let a faithless spouse depart,”Footnote 58 it is better to remain joined in marriage, so that the unbelieving spouse is “sanctified by the faith” of the other, and their children are brought up in the Lord.Footnote 59 In Adulterous Marriages, Augustine presented this “good/better” balance as a dialectic between justice and charity, rule and mercy, law and Gospel, command and counsel, precept and prudence, the law of the state and the law of Christ, the civic ethics of the City of Man and the spiritual ethics of the City of God. While he strongly preferred no divorce or remarriage in the church, he also recognized that “it is difficult to draw with some universal dividing line the distinction between what is unlawful, and therefore inexpedient, and what is lawful, although inexpedient.”Footnote 60

Augustine thus used the concept of the marital sacrament in a number of ways. It was a sign and expression of the eternal union of Christ and his church. It was a covenant or bond that binds the parties for life. It was an ineradicable quality or ontological status akin to the seal of baptism. It was an “essential reality” that transcended the existential relationship of husband and wife. It was a miniature visible expression of the mysterious invisible marriage of Christ and the church. “The sense of the word sacramentum in his treatment of marriage was neither clear nor fixed,” writes leading marital historian Philip Reynolds.Footnote 61 Moreover, although he compared marriage to the sacraments of baptism and ordination for purposes of showing some of their analogous qualities, Augustine preferred to call marriage not a sacrament per se but “a kind of (quiddam) sacrament,” or “what might be called a sacrament.” Sometimes he also referred to the “sacrament-like” qualities, benefits, and virtues of marriage.Footnote 62 Nowhere in his writings did he list marriage as a sacrament like baptism or the Eucharist, as the Council of Trent would do canonically for the first time in 1563.Footnote 63 Nor did he impute to marriage the supernatural and salvatory meaning associated with later medieval sacramental theology. There is far more ambiguity and plasticity in Augustine’s views of the sacramental qualities of marriage. This had the ironic effect of allowing later Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox Christians alike to weave some of his profound insights about sex, marriage, and family life into their theology and jurisprudence. Augustine’s work has been a perennial touchstone for Christian marriage in the Western tradition.Footnote 64

Procreation, fidelity, and sacrament: these were the three goods of marriage, in Augustine’s view. They were the reasons why the institution of marriage was good. They made participation in marriage good. They were the goods and goals that a person could hope and expect to realize in marrying. They were three integrated, interacting, and reinforcing goods, all important individually and all important to each other.

This interdependence of the goods of marriage is seen in the variations Augustine gave in listing them. He usually listed the goods of marriage by giving first place to the good of procreation and child-rearing in the Christian context. At least twice, he underscored this priority by writing that “the procreation of children is itself the primary, natural, legitimate purpose of marriage.”Footnote 65 But he did not regard the other goods as secondary. He sometimes changed the order of marital goods to “fidelity, procreation, and sacrament”Footnote 66 – passages that inspired later canonists and theologians to develop theories of “marital affection” as the primary marital good.Footnote 67 Even when he listed procreation as the first marital good, Augustine made clear that spousal fidelity and sacramental stability were essential for marriage and sufficient when married couples were childless or their children had left the household.Footnote 68 In doing so, he followed classical Greek and Roman authors in highlighting some of the benefits of marriage to the couple themselves.

Summary and Conclusions

Early Christian writers accepted the Greco-Roman ideal of marriage as a heterosexual, monogamous union designed for the procreation of children and the cultivation of virtuous members of society. They selectively adduced Greek and Roman writers who extolled marital love, healthy procreation, family allegiance, and household stability. But using Scriptural passages and moral casuistry, they also criticized the prevailing Roman legal culture of the family. They strove for greater equality between husband and wife, for better treatment of women and children, and for greater restraint in sexual expression. They inveighed against the sexual double standard of Roman marriages, against the unchecked power of the Roman paterfamilias, against infanticide and child enslavement, against sexual immorality, and against extravagant weddings, easy divorces, and routine remarriages.

The Eastern Greek Father John Chrysostom of Antioch and the Western Latin Father Augustine of Hippo offered striking early accounts of the form and function, the structure and purpose, of a Christian marriage. Chrysostom offered the best early Christian example of a multidimensional theory of the marital family sphere. Like earlier classical and Christian writers, he viewed marriage as both a natural and a spiritual institution. But unlike earlier writers, he rooted Christian marriage in both the creation and the incarnation, showing how marriage is both a natural institution and a mystical union, good and desirable for all Christians. Moreover, Chrysostom described at some length the distinct social, contractual, economic, and communicative dimensions of marriage that radiate between the natural and spiritual poles of a Christian marriage. His views were axiomatic for the emerging Eastern Orthodox tradition, and they are enjoying a healthy renaissance in various Orthodox communities today as well as among sundry Catholics and Protestants with keen neo-Patristic interests.

For the Western tradition, St. Augustine’s formulations would become axiomatic. Augustine, too, contrasted the natural and spiritual dimensions of marriage. Yet while Chrysostom focused on the multidimensional structure of marriage (its ontology), Augustine focused on its multiple goods and goals (its teleology). Augustine focused mainly on what marriage was for and why it remained a good creation of God despite human sinfulness. Children, faith, and sacrament made marriage good, and they were the goods that marriage offered to its participants and to their communities. What ultimately made any marriage a Christian marriage, however, was the good of the sacrament and the symbolic stability it offered to the couple, their children, and the community. This good alone could be sufficient to preserve a Christian marriage, even if the two other goods were lacking.

In the next millennium, both Catholics and Protestants would build on these patristic teachings in constructing their own more elaborate theories and laws of Christian marriage. Catholics and Protestants deepened each of these aspects of marriage and combined them in various ways to achieve a fuller integrative theory. Catholics integrated these teachings through the metaphor of sacrament, Protestants through the metaphor of covenant. Catholics and Protestants also differentiated the associations and professions that bore principal responsibility for each aspect of marriage. In medieval times, Catholics emphasized the role of the church in governing and guiding marriage, while in early modern times Protestants emphasized the role of the state. The next two chapters – first on Aquinas and Vitoria and then on Luther and Calvin – illustrate some of the echoes and elaborations of the insights of Chrysostom and Augustine in medieval and early modern Christianity.


1 Don S. Browning, “The Family and Christian Jurisprudence” in John Witte, Jr. and Frank S. Alexander (eds.), Christianity and Law: An Introduction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), pp. 163–84, at pp. 163–64. Browning got this phrase from Carolyn Osiek and David L. Balch, Families in the New Testament World: Households and House Churches (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000).

2 Theodor Mommsen and Paul Krueger (eds.), The Digest of Justinian, 23.2.1, trans. Alan Watson, 4 vols. (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985) (hereafter “Dig.”).

3 Dig. 23.2.1; 24.1.32; 25.1; 35.1; Paul Krüger (ed.), Justinian’s Institutes, 1.9–10, trans. Peter Birks and Grant McLeod (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1987) (hereafter “Inst.”).

4 Judith Evans Grubbs, Law and Family in Late Antiquity: The Emperor Constantine’s Marriage Legislation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), p. 64. See further Suzanne Dixon, “The Sentimental Ideal of the Roman Family” in Beryl Rawson (ed.), Marriage, Divorce, and Children in Ancient Rome (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), pp. 99113; Suzanne Dixon, The Roman Family (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992).

5 Romans 1:24–27; 1 Corinthians 5:1; 6:9, 15–20; Ephesians 5:3–4; Colossians 3:5–6; 1 Timothy 2:9–10; 3:2; 1 Thessalonians 4:3–8; Hebrews 13:4. See further David G. Hunter, “The Domestic Church and the Early Church” in Thomas Knieps-Port Le Roi et al. (eds.), The Household of God and Local Households: Revisiting the Domestic Church (Leuven; Walpole, MA: Peeters, 2013), pp. 221–33.

6 See a good sampling of patristic texts in David G. Hunter (ed.), Marriage in the Early Church (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1992) and detailed analysis in Philip L. Reynolds, Marriage in the Western Church: The Christianization of Marriage During the Patristic and Early Modern Periods (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1994) and Geoffrey S. Nathan, The Family in Late Antiquity: The Rise of Christianity and the Endurance of Tradition (London/New York: Routledge, 2000).

7 See John Chrysostom, On Virginity; Against Remarriage, trans. Sally Reiger Shore (New York/Toronto: Edwin Mellen Press, 1983).

8 John Chrysostom, “Sermon on Marriage” in St. John Chrysostom On Marriage and Family Life, trans. Catherine P. Roth and David Anderson (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1986), pp. 81, 8486; see further Hom. XX on Ephesians 5:22–23, in Chrysostom, On Marriage, p. 43; Hom. XLIX on Acts 13:6–8, in Philip Schaff, trans. and ed., Early Church Fathers: Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, 14 vols. [1886–89], repr. edn. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994) [hereinafter “CF 1”], XI: 296; Hom. LXII on Matt. 19, CF 1, X:382.

9 Chrysostom, On Marriage, pp. 57, 61–62; Footnote ibid., p. 85. These views were anticipated by Clement of Alexandria, who called Christian marriage “a house of God”: Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, or Miscellanies VII.12.70 in Alexander Roberts et al., trans. and ed., The Ante-Nicene Fathers: The Writings of the Fathers Down to A.D. 325, 10 vols. [1885], repr. edn. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1995) [hereinafter “ANF”], vol. 2. For reflections on this image of marriage as the domestic church, which has become a staple of modern Catholic teachings, see Lisa Sowle Cahill, Family: A Christian Social Perspective (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000).

10 Hom. XII on Col. 4:18 in Chrysostom, On Marriage, p. 75. See also quotes from Chrysostom in Paul Evdokimov, The Sacrament of Love: The Nuptial Mystery in Light of the Orthodox Tradition, trans. Anthony P. Gythiel and Victoria Steadman (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1985), p. 118.

11 Hom. XX in Chrysostom, On Marriage, pp. 50–51.

12 Footnote Ibid., pp. 52–53. See also Chrysostom, “How to Choose a Wife” in Chrysostom, On Marriage, p. 95 and broader discussion in P. Grelot, Man and Wife in Scripture (London: Burns & Oates, 1964), pp. 107–08.

13 Hom. XX in Chrysostom, On Marriage, pp. 51–52; Chrysostom, “Sermon on Marriage” in Footnote ibid., pp. 82–83.

14 Hom. LXXIII on Matt. 23:14 in CF 1, X:443–44; Hom. XXI on Acts 9:26–27 in CF 1 XI:140–41; “How to Choose a Wife” in Chrysostom, On Marriage, p. 97. See also Hom. XLIX on Acts 13:6–8 in CF 1, XI:296; Hom. VII on Hebrews 4:11–13 in CF 1 XIV:402; Hom. XXXIII on Hebrews 12:28–29 in CF 1, XIV:516; Hom. IX on 2 Corinthians 4:8–9 in CF 1 XII:323.

15 Hom. IX on 1 Timothy 2:11–15 in CF 1, XI:432–35; Hom. XLVIII on Gen. 48 in Patrologia Graeca, 54:443, using translation in Edward Schillebeeckx, Marriage: Secular Reality and Saving Mystery (London: Sheed and Ward, 1965), pp. 347–49.

16 Chrysostom, “Sermon on Marriage,” pp. 82–83.

17 Hom. XX, 60; Hom. XIX on 1 Corinthians 7, in Footnote ibid., 26; Hom. XII on Colossians 4:18, in Footnote ibid., 76.

18 Hom. XIX, 27; Hom. XX, 62–63. On the modern valuation of household labor, see Chapter 7, pp. 20406.

19 Hom. XX, 53; Hom. XXXIIIV on 1 Corinthians 13, in CF 1, XII:204–05.

20 Hom. XX, 57; Chrysostom, “How to Choose a Wife,” pp. 96–7.

21 Chrysostom, “Sermon on Marriage,” pp. 86–88.

22 Homily XX, 44.

23 Homily on Genesis 38:7 in Patrologia Graeca, 53:359, translated in Thomas Spidlik (ed.), Drinking from the Hidden Fountain: A Patristic Breviary, trans. Paul Drake (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1993), pp. 194–95.

24 See Paul Evdokimov, The Sacrament of Love; John Chryssavgis, Love, Sexuality and the Sacrament of Marriage (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1996).

25 See Meyendorff, Marriage, pp. 19–46; Chryssavgis, Love, Sexuality and the Sacrament of Marriage, pp. 16–33; Stanley S. Harakas, “Covenant Marriage: Reflections from an Eastern Orthodox Perspective” in John Witte, Jr. and Eliza Ellison (eds.), Covenant Marriage in Comparative Perspective (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005), pp. 92123.

26 George Crespy, Paul Evdokimov, and Christian Duquoc, Marriage and Christian Tradition, trans. Sister Agnes Cunningham (Techny, IL: Divine Word Publications, 1968); William Basil Zion, Eros and Transformation: Sexuality and Marriage: An Eastern Orthodox Perspective (Lanham, MD/New York/London: University Press of America, 1992). See the specific issue of married versus celibate clergy illustrated in Patrick Demetrios Viscuso, Sexuality, Marriage, and Celibacy in Byzantine Law: Selections from a Fourteenth-Century Encyclopedia of Canon Law and Theology (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2008).

27 This section draws on and updates my discussion of Augustine in From Sacrament to Contract: Marriage, Religion, and Law in the Western Tradition, 2nd edn. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), pp. 6574.

28 Augustine, Confessions, 4.2, 6.12–15; Reynolds, Marriage in the Western Church, pp. 101–20. It must be said that Augustine, despite his later self-castigation, had been faithful to his concubine and supported his illegitimate son until he was emancipated as an adult. In Roman society, concubinage often became a substitute for marriage when couples were of different socioeconomic classes that prevented valid marriage.

29 Augustine, On the Good of Marriage, in CF 1, 3:397–413 and in Roy J. Deferrari (ed.), St. Augustine: Treatises on Marriage and Other Subjects, trans. Charles T. Wilcox (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1969), pp. 954 [hereinafter “GM”].

30 Augustine, On Marriage and Concupiscence, in CF 1, 5:258–309 [hereinafter “MC”].

31 In St. Augustine, Treatises on Marriage, pp. 61–134 [hereinafter “AM”].

32 David G. Hunter, Marriage, Celibacy, and Heresy in Ancient Christianity: The Jovinianist Controversy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).

33 Augustine, The City of God Against the Pagans, R. W. Dyson, trans. and ed. (Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998), XIV.10, 22, XV.16, XIX.14 [hereinafter “CG”]; GM, 1–6, 9, 20; MC, I.5–9; Sermon 1: On the Agreement of the Evangelists Matthew and Luke in the Generations of the Lord, 20–29, in CF 1, 6:252–56; AM, I.19

34 GM, 8–12; MC, I.23–24, II.13, 54; AM I.25.

35 GM, 32; MC, I.11, 19.

36 GM, 3, 9; CG, XXII.1, XIV.23; MC, I.5, 14; AM, II.12. On the nonmarital life, see Augustine, Of Continence; Of Holy Virginity; Of the Good of Widowhood; Of the Work of Monks in CF 1, 3:379–93, 417–54, 503–24.

37 GM, 3, 9 (my translation); CG, XXII.1, XIV.23; MC, I.5, II.14.

38 MC, I.5.

39 For Augustine’s views on adoption, see sources in John Witte, Jr., The Sins of the Fathers: The Law and Theology of Illegitimacy Reconsidered (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), pp. 4345.

40 MC. I.21–22, 27, 37–39, II.15, 20, 49; GM, 22.

41 Augustine, De peccatum meritis, 3.4.8, using translation and analysis of William Harmless, S.J., “Christ the Pediatrician: Augustine on the Diagnosis and Treatment of the Injured Vocation of the Child” in Patrick M. Brennan (ed.), The Vocation of the Child (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008), pp. 127–53 at p. 140.

42 GM, 3 (Deferrari translation).

43 Footnote Ibid., 6–11; MC, I.15–18; AM, I.2, II.12–17.

44 MC, I.11–12 (my translation).

45 Footnote Ibid., I.23, using translation in Reynolds, Marriage in the Western Church, p. 292. See also Augustine, On the Gospel of St. John, Tract 44, 9.2, in CF 1, 7:245.

46 See further Chapter 9, pp. 2789, where Augustine calls polygamy “perfectly natural.”

47 GM, 17, 21; AM, I.21; Sermon 1: On the Agreement of the Evangelists, 23–26; MC, I.10–11; Augustine, De Genesi ad Litteram, IX.7, in PL 34:397.

48 Theodore Mackin, S.J., Marriage in the Catholic Church: The Marital Sacrament (New York: Paulist Press, 1989), pp. 83189 (discussing the concept of the marital “sacramentum” in Tertullian, Lactantius, Ambrosiaster, Jerome, and Ambrose).

49 MC, I.11; GM, 6, 7, 15, 17, 32; AM, I.12, II.9–11.

50 See Chapter 2, p. TK.

51 See Chapter 3, p. TK.

52 See Chapter 2, p. TK.

53 AM, II.3–5, 10; MC, I.11. GM, 32 compares the permanence of marriage and the ordination of a priest.

54 A few later first-millennium writers also used the term “covenant” (foedus) of marriage, sometimes equating it with sacrament or viewing it as the essence or product (res) of the sacrament, as does Augustine. See, e.g., Arnobius, Adversus Gentes, IV.20, in PL 5, 1040; Leo the Great, Epistola 167, Inq. 4, in PL 54:1204–05; Nicolas I, Responsa ad Consulta Bulgarorum, III, in PL 119, 979–80. See discussion in Mackin, The Marital Sacrament, pp. 169–70; Michael G. Lawler, “Marriage as Covenant in the Catholic Tradition” in Covenant Marriage, pp. 75–76. Lawler disputes the argument of Paul F. Palmer, “Christian Marriage: Contract or Covenant,” Theological Studies, 33 (1972), 617–65 that marriage was frequently viewed as a covenant among first-millennium theologians. My electronic search of the Patrologia Latina for references to covenant marriage also produced considerably fewer instances than Palmer’s essay implies; most of those are references to the metaphorical marital covenant discussed by the Hebrew prophets. “Sacrament” was the preferred language of the later fathers, and even more so of medieval and early modern Catholic writers. See further John Witte, Jr., “The Covenant of Marriage: Its Biblical Roots, Historical Influence, and Modern Uses,” INTAMS Review on Marriage and Spirituality, 18 (2012), 147–65.

55 See Theodore Mackin, S.J., Marriage in the Catholic Church: Divorce and Remarriage (New York: Paulist Press, 1984).

56 AM, I.6–12, II.4–5, 13.

57 1 Corinthians 10:23.

58 1 Corinthians 7:15.

59 AM, I.13–15.

60 AM, II.8, 10, 17, 19, 22.

61 Reynolds, Marriage in the Western Church, p. 309. See also Mackin, The Marital Sacrament, pp. 226–27.

62 GM, 7, 17; MC I.11–12.

63 For the slow development of this view of the marital sacrament, see the massive work of Philip L. Reynolds, How Marriage Became One of the Sacraments (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016).

64 See several articles by Philip L. Reynolds in W. Otten and K. Pollman (eds.), The Oxford Guide to the Historical Reception of Augustine (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013).

65 AM, II.12.

66 Augustine, De Genesi ad Litteram, IX.7.

67 Jean Leclercq, Monks on Marriage: A Twelfth-Century View (New York: Seabury Press, 1982), pp. 1138, 7181; John T. Noonan, Jr., “Marital Affection Among the Canonists,” Studia Gratiana, 14 (1967), 480–99.

68 GM, 12–13.

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