When marriages were first performed, it was in a far different form than it is found today. Around 2350 years before Christ, it was in a context that was purely social. It was an arrangement in which a woman was bound legally as the property of a man and was meant, among other things, to ensure that a man’s heirs were biologically his. Through the Middle Ages, around the 8th century, it began to take on religious overtones and was also used as a means to join together different aristocracies. Indeed, our very scriptures speak of a man and a woman becoming one flesh, as in a lifetime together.
As the Catholic church rose up in Europe, the institution of marriage came under the church’s control and required a priest to make it a legal instrument. It wasn’t until 1563 that the sacrament of marriage was written into Canon law and then into the tenets of most Christian religions.
Since our country’s inception and before, as far back as the first European’s who arrived on our shores, our society has had as its base foundation the principles of Christendom. All of them, for the most part, recognized marriage as a solemn oath, a vow between two people, those being a man and woman, and God. As a sacrament of the church it is considered a promise, and the vows which one takes are not to be taken lightly.
In our country, we also have what is known as legal unions. If one does not wish to be burdened by the restrictions of the church, its tenets and regulations, or by the vows with which it is enshrined, then one can simply have a civil ceremony performed which will join two willing participants together as a legal couple. These unions have far fewer conditions and/or restrictions.
As our society has become more and more secular, the act of marriage has become more and more of a show. It is now not much more than a tradition to most Canadians, albeit a very expensive and lavish one. Like most other Christian holy days and sacraments, it has become nothing more than a routine which one does with little or no thought or understanding of the significance of the thing.
I can understand how this happens, especially amongst the non-believers among us; those who do not embrace a belief in God. What really troubles me though, is the lack of reverence that those who profess to be believers have for the institution of marriage.
Most of us have heard the vows that are read at a Christian wedding. There are many different services now, as more and more people write their own vows. But for those around me who are entering into their second or more marriages, I find it deeply troubling as to how insincere most are in regards to the vows that they have taken.
The traditional vows which are read in many Christian services read as follows:
“[Name], do you take [Name] to be your wedded [husband/wife] to live together in marriage. Do you promise to love, comfort, honor and keep [him/her] For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. And forsaking all others, be faithful only to [him/her] so long as you both shall live?”
Notice the line that mentions the disclaimers “better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness or in health”, and take special notice of the last seven words which read quite clearly “so long as you both shall live”. More and more I hear people who profess to be people of faith rhyme off excuse after excuse as to why they were justified in leaving the home in which the Lord had made that they had agreed to let “no man put asunder.”
I would like to suggest a new set of vows for people who like the sound of the mushy promises, but simply do not intend to honor the pledge which they have made or will make. They could read like this:
“I, (name), do promise to take you, (name), to be my wedded (husband/wife) to have and to hold, to love and comfort, as long as everything is peachy. I will honor you as long as I can, and will not leave until I forget how much I claimed to love you on this day. When I can no longer stand you or wish to make the effort to solidify our union, I will then let no man, except my lawyer, break us apart.”
While this may sound extremely sarcastic, I am simply trying to convey the sadness that I feel over the lack of reverence for what used to be known as ‘holy matrimony’. I believe that the church, which we claim to be our own, is very sick and the symptoms are wide ranging with one of the most prevalent being selfishness. We are excusing ourselves as we break our own word, and the oath that we have sworn in a place of worship before the God whom we claim to serve. This simply is not right.
I myself am very lucky. I have been blessed with a wonderful wife; one which at times I am sure that I do not deserve. I know that my marriage has been made incredibly easy to live within because of that fact, and understand that some marriages are simply very bad situations or worse. On those unfortunate souls, I am not trying to pass judgment, but at the same time, we must stop excusing ourselves when we break our vows and we must stop making up reasons as to why we feel this is an acceptable path. We fool only ourselves and set up the church for ridicule and for the institution of marriage to be held in the low esteem in which it is held today.
I believe that a nation that does not have a solid foundation with which to support the traditional marriage is ultimately made weaker. It is that belief that has made marriage the institution that it has become, that being the cornerstone of our families and societal structure.
What the masses do once they are married is really none of my business, although it does impact the society in which I live. Professing Christians are another matter. It is shameful that so many churches and clergy no longer see the long term affects that the looking away from broken vows is having on their own existence. It is also a shame to see so many professing one thing and not understanding what a promise to God means. The words “till death do us part” have only one meaning.