The sad prevalence of divorce in the United States might not have come to pass if people had clear ideas of what Marriage really is. Marriage is a great deal more than simply a civil contract. It is a divine institution, "an honorable estate, instituted by God in the time of man's innocency." It is a religious ceremony and is sacramental in character. It ought, therefore, to be clearly understood that marriage simply by a "squire" or other legal officer, detracts from the sacredness and dignity of "this holy estate," and belittles the binding character of the "marriage tie." Even a secular paper could declare, "We do not believe there should be any civil marriages of any kind. Every ceremony should be solemnized by the Church and lifted above the level of a real estate transaction." In this custom of civil or legal marriages may be found at least one cause, perhaps the principal cause of divorce, for it encourages such a low view of the sacredness of the Marriage Rite.
   Taught by our Lord and His Apostles, the Church emphasizes the religious and sacramental character of Holy Matrimony and has always enjoined its solemnization with ecclesiastical ceremonies and by ecclesiastical persons. This is clearly set forth by the earliest Christian writers. Thus St. Ignatius in one of his Epistles says: "It is fitting for those who purpose matrimony to accomplish their union with the sanction of the Bishop, that their marriage may be in the Lord." Tertullian speaks of marriages being "ratified before God," and adds, "How can we find words to describe the happiness of that Marriage in which the Church joins together, which the Oblation confirms, the Benediction seals, the Angels proclaim when sealed, and the Father ratifies." St. Ambrose calls Marriage a Sacrament, and says, "Marriage must be sanctified by the Priest's sanction and blessing."
   These utterances unfold the mind of the Church in the times nearest the days of our Lord and His Apostles, and in all ages ever since the Church has never abandoned this position in her practice and formularies. A careful study of the Marriage Service in the Prayer Book will show it to be a very clear setting forth of the nature of Marriage. It will also be seen how fully this Service has retained the belief concerning Marriage which the Church has always held since the time of our Lord and His Apostles.
   See Betrothal, also Espousal.

American Church Dictionary and Cyclopedia. — New York, Thomas Whittaker. . 1901.

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