Arguing that civil marriage has had a long life among devout Christians, Johno at Perfidy writes:

Working my way through Francis J. Bremer’s John Winthrop: America’s Forgotten Founding Father, I come by this tidbit:”[in the Massachusetts Bay colony,] [m]arriage was rejected as a sacrament and became a civil ceremony performed by local magistrates.” … marriage was by law a civil ceremony divorced from the church even in 1630, a time when the Massachusetts Bay Colony was 100% Christian crusaders aiming to be a beacon of G-dliness to the world and shunning from society those who fell short.

Johno’s comments remind that the ceremonial side of Christian marriage was, well, un-Christian. According to Edith Ennen, early theologians wrote at length about the rite and definition of marriage.

The constent, the mutual affetion of the bride and the bridegroom (affectio maritalis) was a main constituent of marriage. This is expressed most strongly in the fact that the partners themselves administer the marriage sacrament.

The mutuality of marriage focused on the man and woman; it left out legal and ceremonial matters. Instead Roman law was used. Consequently, the implied equality of Christian marraige disappeared underneath property issues that weakened women as marital partners. The rite of marriage was difficult to sustain without reference to extra-Christian institutions. Marriage belonged to a wider field of social and cultural practices beyond Christian theology or tradition.

Aside: Ennen also notes that Church authorities were suspicious of the revelry of wedding celebrations, and some bishops forbade priests from attending.

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