From Sacrament to Contract: Marriage, Religion, and Law in Western Tradition

Witte, John, Jr. From Sacrament to Contract: Marriage, Religion, and Law in Western Tradition. The Family, Religion, and Culture Series. Don S. Browning and Ian S. Evison, eds. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997.

From Sacrament to Contract, by John Witte, Jr., explores the major theological and religious sources which have historically informed Western marriage law from the mid-12th through the 20th centuries. Witte confines the geographical focus of his research to Western Europe, with some attention to its extension in America. The book’s chapters present five models of marriage, each of which deal with the major ways Catholic, Protestant or Enlightenment thinkers have ordered and arranged the four perspectives on marriage dominant in the Western Christian Church: the religious perspective, the social perspective, the contractual perspective and the natural perspective. The five models of marriage are: the Catholic sacramental model; the Lutheran social model; the Calvinist covenantal model; the Anglican commonwealth model; and the Enlightenment contractarian model. Witte denies these models to be Weberian “ideal” types but rather describes them as Niebuhrian conceptual constructs, that is, as ways of testing the theological meaning and legal significance of marriage. As Witte explains it, Western marriage law represents a “grand movement,” one that moves “from a sacramental model that prioritizes canonical norms and ecclesiastical structures to a contractarian model that prioritizes choice and contractual strictures. It is a movement fueled, in part, by the reciprocating shifts in the dominant theological models and legal structures of marriage.”