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4. Remarks upon the marriage Rites and Ceremonies of the Ancient church

Antiquities of the Christian Church
XIX. Of Marriage

4. Remarks upon the marriage Rites and Ceremonies of the Ancient church

In the works of early ecclesiastical writers, especially in those of Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Augustine, Jerome, Basil, and Chrysostom, we find many allusions to particular rites and ceremonies, but no entire, or general account of them. In the former part of the seventh century, a writer attempted to enumerate the marriage ceremonies which the church had recognized as innocent and convenient, or symbolical. We possess also an official account of the ceremonies used in the Roman church, A. D. 860, from the pen of the pope Nicolas I. 

To proceed however with our general remarks.

  1. The office of grooms-man, or attendant of the bridegroom, is of high antiquity; common alike to the Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans. He is designated by the names *, etc. He had various duties to perform in connection with the nuptial contract and dowry, such as the following, – to accompany the parties to the church at their marriage, – to act as sponsor for them in their vows, – to assist in the marriage ceremonies, – to accompany them to the house of the bridegroom, – to preside over, and direct the festivities of the occasion, etc. 
  2. The use of the ring, in the rites both of espousal and of marriage is very ancient. It is mentioned both by Tertullian, and Clement of Alexandria;. the latter of whom says, "It was given her not as an ornament, but as a seal, to signify the woman's duty in preserving the goods of her husband, because the care of the house belongs to her." Isodorus Hispalensis says, "that it was presented by the husband either as a pledge of mutual affection, or rather as a token of the union of their hearts in love." 
  3. The crowning of the married pair with garlands, was a marriage rite peculiar to many nations professing different forms of religion. Tertullian inveighs against it with all the zeal of a gloomy Montanist; but it is spoken of with approbation by the fathers of the fourth and fifth centuries, from whom it appears that the friends and attendants of the bridal pair were adorned in the same manner. These chaplets were usually made of myrtle, olive, amarinth, rosemary, and evergreens intermingled with cypress and vervain. The crown, appropriately so called, was made of olive, myrtle, and rosemary, variegated with flowers, and sometimes with gold and silver, pearls, precious stones, etc. These crowns were constructed in the form of a pyramid, or tower.

    Both the bride, and the bridegroom were crowned in this manner, together with the grooms-man, and the brides-maid. The bride frequently appeared in church thus attired on the day when proclamation of the banns was made.

    Chaplets were not worn by the parties in case of second marriage, nor by those who had been guilty of impropriety before marriage.

    In the Greek church the chaplets were imposed by the officiating minister at the altar. In the Western church it was customary for the parties to present themselves thus attired.

  4. The wearing of a veil by the bride, was borrowed from the Romans. It was also conformable to the example of Rebecca, Gen. 14.

    From this marriage rite arose the custom o( taking the veil in the Catholic church. By this act, the nun devotes herself to perpetual virginity as the spouse of Christ, the bridegroom of the church.

  5. It appears to have been customary also to spread a robe over the bridegroom and bride, called vitla nuptialis, pallium jugale, etc., and made of a mixture of white and red colors. 
  6. Torches and lamps were in use on such occasions both among the Jews and pagan nations. No mention is made of them in the church previous to the time of Constantine, though they may have been in use at an earlier date.
  7. All the marriage rites and ceremonies indicate that the day was observed as a festive occasion, while measures were carefully taken to guard against all excesses and improprieties of conduct. These festivities were celebrated by nuptial processions, going out to meet the bridegroom and conducting him home, – by nuptial songs, and music, and marriage feasts. These festivals are frequently the subject of bitter animadversion by the fathers, especially by Chrysostom, and often called for the interposition of the authority of the church. It appears, however, that the efforts of the church were, not to abolish these convivial entertainments and festivities, but to restrain them within the bounds of decency and good order. The clergy were expected to refrain from attending them.  
  8. In connection with these festivities, it was customary to distribute alms to the poor, and instead of the old Roman custom of scattering about nuts, to throw out pieces of money to the children, and lo the poor.

Isidorus Hispalensis, De eccleslasticis officiis. lib. ii. c. 19.

Du Cange, Glossa s. v. Arra nuptialis: Mariene, De Antiq. eccl. rit. P. 2. p. 606-8: Cone. Carthag. iv. c. 13: Capitul. Caroli. M. lib. vii. c. 363: Hildebrand De Nuptiis vet. Christian, p. 86.

Apologet. c. 6: De Idol. c. 16. vgl. Plinius, Hist. nat. xxxiii. c. 1.

Paedag. lib. iii. c. 11: Comp. Ambros. Ep. 34.

De Eccl. Off. lib. iL c. 19.

De Corona milit. c. 13–15.

Hildebrand. De nupt. p. 78: Steinberg, Abhaudl. von den Hochzeit-Kranzen. 1764. 4: p. 17seq.

Hildebrand, De Nuptiis, p. 76, 77: Calvoer. p. 106.

Chrysost. Hom. iv. in ep. in Hebr.: Nicephor. h. e. lib. xviii. c. 8.

Ambrose, serm. 25: Chrysostom. Hom. 41. in Act. Apost.: Niceph. h. e. lib. 13. c. 8.

Hom. 12 in Ep. ad Coloss. Opp. tom. vi. p. 247–62: Hom. 48 in Gen. p. 549 seq.: 56. p. 605 seq.

Concil. Laodic. c. 53.

Concil. Antissidor. c. 34: Agath. c. 39: Neo-Caesar. c. 7.

Morem quein sancta Romana suscepit antiquitus et hactenus in hujusmodi conjunctionibus tenet ecclesia, vobis monstrare studeBimus. Nostrates siquidein tam mares qnam teininae non ligaturam auream, vel argenteam, aut ex quolibet metallo compositam, quando riuplialia foedera contrahunt, in capite deferunt. Sed post sponsalia, quae futuraruni sunt nuptiarum promissa foedera, quaecunque consensu eorum, qui haec contrahunt, et eorum, in quorum poteslate sunt, celebrantur, et postquam arrhis sponsam sibi sponsus per digitum fidei a se annulo insignitum desponderit, dotemque utrique placitam sponsus ei cum scripto pactum hoc continente coram invitatis ab utroque parte tradiderit; aut reox, aut apto tempore, ne videlicet ante tempus lege definitura tale quid fieri praesumatur, ambo ad nuptialia foedera perducuntur. Et priinum in ecclesia Domini cum oblationibus, quas offerre debent Deo per sacerdotis manum, statuuntur, sicque demum benedictionem et velamen coeleste suscipiunt. . . . Verumtamen velamen illud non suscipit, qui ad secundas nuptias migrat. Post haec autem de ecclesia egressi coronas in capitibus gestant quae in ecclesia ipsa sunt solitae reservari: Et ita festis nuptialibus celebratis ad ducendam individuam vitam Domino disponente de cetero diriguntur. . . . Tanta solet arctare quosdam rerum inopia, ut ad haec praeparanda nullum his suffragetur auxilium: ac per hoc sufficiat, secundum leges, solus eorum consensus, de quorum conjunctionibus agitur. Qui consensus, si solus in nuptiis forte defuerit, cetera omnia etiam cum ipso coitu celebratafrustantur. . . . Haec sunt praeter alia, quae ad memoriam non occurrunt, pacta conjugiorum solemnia. Peccatum autem esse, si haec cuncta in nuptial! foedere non interveniant, non dicimus, quemadmodum Graecos vos adstruere dicitis. – Nicol. I. Respons. ad Consulta Bulgar. c. 3.

Tertull. De Veland. Virg. lib. xvii. c. 11. – The velamen nuptiale, of which Ambrose (Ep. 70) says, "Conjugium velamine sacerdotali sanctificari oportet," is usually regarded as "signum pudoris et verecundiae." According to Isidor. Hispal. (De Off. Eccl. ii. c. 19) it is rather "signum humilitatis et subjectionis erga maritum." He says, Feminae, dum niaritantur, velantur, ut noverint per hoc se viris esse subjectas et hu miles.

Qoud nubentes post benedictionem vitta invicem quasi uno vinculo copulantur, videlicet ideo fit, ne compagera conjugalis unitatis disrumpant. Ac eadem vitta candido purpureoque colore permiscetur; candor quippe est ad munditiem vitae, purpura ad sanguinis posteritatem adhibetur, ut hoc signo et continentia et lex continendi ab utrisque ad tempus admoneantur, et post hoc reddendum debitum non negetur. – Isidor. Hispal. de Off. Eccl. lib. ii.c. 19.

Presbyteri, diaconi, sub-diaconia vel deinceps, qnibus ducendi uxores licentia modo non est etiam aliarum nuptiarum evitent convivia, nee his coetibus miscantur ubi amatoria canuntur et turpia, aut obsceni motus corporum choreis et saltationibus efFeruntur, ne auditus etobtuitus sacris ministeriis deputati turpium spectaculorum atque verborum contagione polluantur. – Conil. Agath. c. 39.

(* denotes Greek text in Rev. Lyman Coleman's translation.)


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