Church, State, and Marriage: Three Reformation Models

John Witte Jr.

Emory University School of Law


Word and World, Vol. 23, No. 1, pp. 40-47, Winter 2003

This article addresses the Christian views of marriage from 4 traditional denominations: Catholic, Lutheran, Calvinist, and Anglican. By addressing the idea of marriage from these varied perspectives, a greater understanding of the essential characteristics of marriage can be achieved.

The Catholic view of marriage proclaims a threefold purpose to marriage. The first purpose is the natural purpose to be fruitful and multiply. The second purpose is the contractual purpose of mutual consent to a lifelong relationship. The final purpose is the sacramental purpose of a symbolized union that mirror’s Christ’s marriage to the church. However, the act of marriage itself is not spiritually edifying in the Catholic tradition. Instead, it is a remedy for lust and other types of sin.

The Protestant vision of marriage rejects the Catholic sacramental view of marriage as well as the subordination of married life to celibacy. In the Lutheran tradition, marriage is a social model was on Luther’s concept of the two kingdoms, civil and theological. As part of the earthly kingdom, marriage is subject to civil laws. The Lutheran tradition also rejected the Catholic law that forbade clerics to marry, refused to make marriage a heretical issue, and removed several impediments to creating a marriage.

The Calvinist tradition added its own ideas to the concept of marriage by making marriage a covenant involving the entire religious community. Marriage is grounded in the order of creation; thus, there are civil and spiritual norms of marriage. The moral law led to two concepts of morality in marriage. The lower form is that of duty, which applies to all persons, regardless of faith. The higher morality of spiritualism is demanded of all believers to reflect their faith. Like the Lutheran faith, the Calvinist tradition rejects the idea that marriage is a sacrament; however, marriage is more than a mere contract because God is a part to all marriages.

The Anglican faith created a commonwealth model of marriage in which marriage is a symbol of the divine, but also a symbol of the good of the couple, the children, the church, and the state. The marriage is part of the greater hierarchy of Anglican society, in which parties have reciprocal duties for one another. As the social hierarchical model changed, so did the model of marriage, granting more equal status to women within the state and within marriage. Likewise, just as a king can be removed for an abuse of his power, so to can the paterfamilias be removed from the family for an abuse of his power.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 9

Keywords: Christian, Marriage, Calvinist, Lutheran, Anglican, Catholic

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Date posted: March 30, 2011  

Suggested Citation

Witte, John, Church, State, and Marriage: Three Reformation Models (2003). Word and World, Vol. 23, No. 1, pp. 40-47, Winter 2003. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1797842

Contact Information

John Witte Jr. (Contact Author)
Emory University School of Law ( email )
1301 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA 30322
United States
404-727-6980 (Phone)
404-712-8605 (Fax)
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