For Catholics and Orthodox Christians,
yes. For Protestants, no. Here's why.
It is generally agreed that
sacraments origninate in the Bible, and in particular in the words and deeds of
Christians universally agree that Baptism
and Communion (or the Eurcharist) were specifically
initated by Christ. Jesus himself was baptized by John and he advised his disciples
to do likewise. Jesus also presided at the Last Supper and at that time he instructed
his disciples to repeat the ritual of the breaking of bread and the sharing of
wine "in remembrance of me." In a very real sense the New Testament
documents the emergence of these two, specifically Christian rituals.
Baptism and Communion were central and distinguishing marks of the Christian church
from the time of Jesus forward.
Marriage has a far more complicated
First, it was adopted by Christians from Jewish practice.
Jesus did not initiate or even change the institition of marriage. He did perform
his first miracle at a wedding in Cana where he turned water into wine, but in
this he was simply a wedding guest; he was blessing an existing practice, nor
initiating something new.
Second, marriage was not identified
as a sacrament by the Church until the 12th century. During the Protestant Reformation
there was an effort to "purify" the Church of practices, doctrines,
and rituals that were thought to be departures from the clear teachings and traditions
of the Bible. The reformers believed that there was insufficient biblical authority
for referring to marriage as a sacrament.
Note that this is not
an argument about the importance of marriage, or any of the five rituals identified
by Catholics as sacraments, but seen by Protestants to be sacred, holy, and even
central to the community of faith, but not in the same class as Baptism and Communion.
Here are the words of one Protestant leader on the subject. In his
"Institutes," John Calvin writes: "Lastly, there is matrimony,
which all admit was instituted by God, though no one before the time of (Pope)
Gregory regarded it as a sacrament. What man in his sober senses could so regard
it? God's ordinance is good and holy; so also are agriculture, architecture, shoemaking,
hair-cutting legitimate ordinances of God, but they are not sacraments."
It was partly as a result of the dispute with Protestants over the
sacraments that the Catholic Church clarified its position on marriage at the
Council of Trent (1545-1563). At Trent it was decreed: "If any one shall
say that matrimony is not truly and properly one of the Seven Sacraments of the
Evangelical Law, instituted by Christ our Lord, but was invented in the Church
by men, and does not confer grace, let him be anathema."
this point forward the Protestant denominations have been committed to counting
only Baptism and Communion as sacraments while Orthodox and Catholic Christians
Of course, positions hardened in the sixteenth century
could become more flexible with the passing of time. In Protestant circles, it
is common to refer to marriage as being "sacramental" in the sense that
a good marriage is an outward sign of inner grace. And those who are involved
in ecumenical dialogue and debate could find grounds for agreement about marriage,
should more serious issues still dividing Protestants and Catholics be resolved.
If you want to talk with someone in person, please feel free to call 212-864-5436
The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and
Executive Director of CrossCurrents.
He is the author of God and Science (John Knox Press, 1986).
A revised and expanded version of the book is appearing here. God and Science (Hypertext Edition,
He is also editor of a new book, featuring articles by world class scientists and theologians, and illustrating the leading views on the relationship between science and religion: Faith, Science and the Future (CrossCurrents Press, 2007).
Charles also tracks the boundry between the virtual and the real at his blog: Next World Design, focusing on the mediation of art, science and spirituality in the metaverse.