Marriage Laws – Council of Trent on Matrimony

By Laurom – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

When Martin Luther nailed his list of 95 theses to a church door in Germany in 1517, he ignited a debate that led to the Protestant Reformation. Reading over the list of 95 theses, nothing there was said about marriage.

Yet, the Protestant Reformation over the next 30 years generated enough theological pressure that the Roman Catholic prelates convened the Council of Trent to create the Catholic Counter-Reformation. This Council met from 1545 to 1563 over 25 sessions.

In the 24th session, in the year 1563, the prelates considered matrimony. The text is available at this location: Council of Trent, 1563, Session XXIV. I quote from the preamble and the first three canons issued by this session below.

From the preamble:  many things alien from the sentiment of the Catholic Church, and from the usage approved of since the times of the apostles; the holy and universal Synod wishing to meet the rashness of these men, has thought it proper, lest their pernicious contagion may draw more after it, that the more remarkable heresies and errors of the above-named schismatics be exterminated, by decreeing against the said heretics and their errors the following anathemas.

The first thing to note from the preamble is the “usage approved of since the times of the apostles” which means the prelates refuse to consider anything earlier in guiding their “sentiment” unless it is agreeable to said sentiment.

CANON I.-If any one saith, that matrimony is not truly and properly one of the seven sacraments of the evangelic law, (a sacrament) instituted by Christ the Lord; but that it has been invented by men in the Church; and that it does not confer grace; let him be anathema.

Canon I is saying that matrimony was a sacrament instituted by Christ the Lord. I found this definition of matrimony in a DuckDuckGo search:

The act or state of being married; marriage.

[Middle English, from Old French matrimoine, from Latin mātrimōnium, from māter, mātr-, mother; see māter in Indo-European roots.]

It’s interesting that matrimony is based on the Latin word that means “mother”. Further down on that page, there is this description of matrimony as a sacrament:

a formal religious ceremony conferring a specific grace on those who 
receive it; the two Protestant ceremonies are baptism and the Lord’s 
Supper; in the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox 
Church there are seven traditional rites accepted as instituted by Jesus: baptism and confirmation and Holy Eucharist and penance and holy 
orders and matrimony and extreme unction

This canon is using the word “matrimony” instead of the word “marriage. There is a reason for this choice. Marriage is a simple ceremony, as seen in the Garden of Eden in Genesis 2 when YHVH brought Eve to Adam. This Canon is rejecting any criticism of the Catholic Church’s additions and requirements to the simplicity of marriage seen in the Garden of Eden and throughout the Old Testament into the end of the Second Temple Era. In short, the Catholic Church enclosed marriage within the sacrament of matrimony and through that vehicle could declare whatever it wanted with respect to matrimony.

CANON II.-If any one saith, that it is lawful for Christians to have several wives at the same time, and that this is not prohibited by any divine law; let him be anathema.

Canon II is flatly rejecting the fact of polygyny seen throughout the Old Testament. Exodus 21:10-11 clearly regulates polygyny. Exodus 20:14 flatly forbade adultery and Deuteronomy 22:22-24 illustrates what adultery is and prescribes the applicable death penalty. Nowhere is there a comparable penalty associated with polygyny. The prelates chose to ignore these facts and only consider what the custom was from the time of the apostles. As seen in the discussion of Canon I, the Catholic prelates reject polygyny as having any role or place in their sacrament of matrimony.

CANON III.-If any one saith, that those degrees only of consanguinity and affinity, which are set down in Leviticus, can hinder matrimony from being contracted, and dissolve it when contracted; and that the Church cannot dispense in some of those degrees, or establish that others may hinder and dissolve it ; let him be anathema.

In Canon III, the prelates are arrogating to themselves to add or subtract to the laws limiting with whom an Israelite man may marry. Adding or subtracting from His Word is forbidden, yet here were the prelates saying that anyone who contests this should be anathemized!!

You must neither add anything to what I command you nor take away anything from it, but keep the commandments of the Lord your God with which I am charging you.

Deuteronomy 4:2

To conclude, in 1563 AD, as in 1500 years ago, the Catholic Church reaffirmed their rejection of parts of the Mosaic Covenant and saying they have the authority to add or subtract to the Word based on their “sensibilities” and sacraments declaring anathema on any who would challenge that self-declared authority.

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