Schilling, Heinz: Confessional Europe
For marriage and the family, as well as generally for relations between the sexes, confessionalization had important long-term consequences.(31) The development of modern marriage is to a large degree the history of marriage and married life as the confessional churches shaped them. Here, too, despite theological differences, the functional equivalence of the three streams of confessionalization remains valid, because the chief problem everywhere was to liberate the making of marriages from the kinfolk and bring it into the public sphere, where it could be regulated, supervised, and documented. This normally involved an obligation to announce from the pulpit intentions to marry, the introduction of church weddings –at which the consent of the bridal couple and their parents or other relations before witnesses was required– and the registration of marriages in the parish registers kept by every parish priest and pastor.
In the two Protestant churches marriage was “a worldly matter”, both based on the promises of the spouses and bound by the norms of Christian fidelity, honesty, and responsibility to one’s neighbor. The confirmation of Catholic marriage as a sacrament by the Council of Treent, by contrast, in principle excluded a secularization of marriage. It also affirmed the Catholic Church’s primary responsibility for marriage affairs and its autonomy vis-a vis the state, which the Protestants, having denied the sacramental character of marriage, could not claim. Still, as the Protestant confessions did not dare to draw the practical consequences from their desacralization of marriage in principle –relinquishing marriage and the family entirely to the state– in practice the role of religion remained primary in the Protestant lands as well. The only exceptions were the Dutch Republic and, for a time, England, where a free civil marriage was temporarily introduced respectively at the end of the sixteenth century and in the mid-seventeenth century. On the other side, the sacramental marriage bond of Tridentine Catholicism was in reality no more stable than the secular vows taken by Protestant partners, the respecting of which was strictly policed by the Calvinist presbyteries and the Lutheran consistories. It is indeed quite possible that a quantitative comparison between the annulment decrees of episcopal tribunals and the Roman Rota, on the other hand, and the Protestant divorce decrees (with which especially the Lutherans were quite stingy), would show that the secular vow as the basis of Protestant marriage was in practice more stable than the sacramental marriage of Catholicism. (32)