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What Is a Theology of Marriage?

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  • Written By: Daniel Liden
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 05 September 2016
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A theology of marriage is an explanation of the meanings and implications of marriage according to the theological doctrines of a particular religion. Theological understandings of marriage are generally drawn from some combination of the sacred texts and traditions of the religion in question. In some cases, the ruling bodies of various religions may also make statements about the theology of marriage that become part of the traditions of those religions. Theology may include rulings on and descriptions of whom one can marry, how to act while married, and what happens to the marriage after death. Sometimes, these theological views do not correspond to legal views of marriage, thus creating tension between law and religion.

One of the main concerns of a given theology of religion is giving a metaphysical understanding of what happens when people get married. Physically, those involved simply pledge to be together and to be loyal to each other, which confers certain legal benefits and responsibilities. The theological implications of marriage, however, are often much more significant. A particular theology of marriage may consider marriage to be an unbreakable commitment for life and, in some cases, beyond death. Marriage may be seen as a representation and appreciation of the love of some deity as experienced through the unbreakable unity of two people, essentially uniting the human and the divine.

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It is not uncommon for a theology of marriage to disagree with the legal understanding and practice of marriage on some points. In the Catholic Church, for instance, marriage is not considered valid except when it is conducted through the church's sacramental marriage ceremony. Furthermore, legal divorce is not possible in the Catholic Church. In the Catholic theology of marriage, the spiritual communion of a man and his wife is considered unbreakable. The only way to secure a "divorce" in the Catholic Church is to demonstrate that, for whatever reason, the marriage never occurred correctly in the first place.

Generally speaking, a theology of marriage suggests or explicitly includes a set of marriage-related behaviors that are or are not appropriate. A theology of marriage may, for instance, prohibit members of that religion from marrying individuals who adhere to other belief systems. It is also common for a theology of marriage to include specific rules on sexual behavior, treatment of one's spouse, and bearing and raising children. Failure to adhere to such theological rules may be considered somewhat inappropriate or even sinful and offensive.

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