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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature


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1. Among the Jews this was the ceremony of betrothing, or coming under obligation for the purpose of marriage, and was a mutual agreement between the parties which usually preceded the marriage some time. The espousals frequently took place years before the parties were married. (See BETROTHAL); (See MARRIAGE).

2. In the early Christian Church espousals differed from marriage. The two terms are in early writers sponsalia and ntuptiae. Certain preliminaries were necessary before persons could complete a marriage: they consisted in a mutual contract or agreement between the parties concerning their marriage to be performed within a certain limited time, which contract was confirmed by certain gifts or donations, called arrhae or arrhabones, the earnest of marriage; as also by a ring, a kiss, a dowry, a writing or instrument of dowry, with a sufficient number of witnesses to attest it. The free consent of parties contracting marriage was declared necessary by the old Roman law, which was confirmed by Diocletian, and inserted by Justinian in his code. When the contract was made, it was usual for the man to bestow presents on the woman: these were sometimes called sponsalia, espousals, and sometimes sponsalitiae donationes, espousal- gifts, or arrhae and pignora, pledges of future marriage, because the giving and receiving them was a confirmation of the contract. These donations were publicly recorded. The ring was then presented to the woman as a further confirmation of the contract, and does not appear to have been given in the actual solemnization of marriage. Bingham, in proof of this, quotes the words of pope Nicholas I, and also refers to Ambrose and Tertullian. The origin of the marriage-ring has been traced to the tenth century, and is supposed to have been introduced in imitation of the ring worn by bishops. Isidorus Hispalensis refers to the marriage-ring in this language: Quod autem in nuptiis annulus a sponso sponsae datur, id fit vel propter mutuae dilectionis signum, vel propter id magis, ut hoc pignore corda eorum jungantur; unde et quarto digito annulus inseritur, ideo quod vena quaedam (ut fertur) sanguinis ad cor usque perveniat: "The reason why a ring is given by the bridegroom to the bride is either as a mark of mutual love, or rather a pledge of the union of their hearts; mnd the reason for its being placed on the fourth finger is because a certain vein (as it is said) reaches thence to the heart." The kiss was solemnly given, with the joining together of the hands of the betrothed. The dowry settled upon the woman was by a stipulation made in writing, or by public instruments under hand and seal. Chosen witnesses were present, the friends of each party, and their number was generally ten. Occasionally a ministerial benediction was used in espousals as well as in marriage. (See MARRIAGE). Farrar, Ecclesiastes Dict. s.v.; Bingham, Orig. Ecclesiastes book 22, chapter 3; Procter, On Common Prayer, page 401.

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Espousals'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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