Now when Martin Luther and, later, John Calvin began teaching that Sacraments are just signs (i.e. containing no inner working/transformative grace), and of those signs there are only two (i.e. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper), and that Holy Matrimony is not a Sacrament, it instantly opened the door to their next finding; that the institution of marriage is under the purview of the state government, rather than the Church.
There are basic errors here. While the Reformers certainly deny Roman sacramental soteriology, neither Reformer taught that the sacraments were "just signs" as if by "sign" something trivial was adhered to. Calvin states that a sacrament is "an outward sign by which the Lord seals on our consciences the promises of his good will toward us in order to sustain the weakness of our faith; and we in turn attest our piety toward him in the presence of the Lord and of his angels and before men" (Institutes, IV,14,1), and he then goes on to a much richer explanation comprising several chapters. Luther saw the sacraments as another form of the powerful Word of God in which God gives His promises, and this visible Word changes our hearts, minds, reason, and will. It is then asserted that the Reformers were in error by limiting the sacraments to two, as if the seven sacraments posited by Romanism were set in stone by the apostles themselves. This is hardly the case. It wasn't until the 13th Century that Romanism settled for seven. Then it is asserted that the Reformers were that which "instantly opened the door" for marriage to be put in the hands of government. A Roman Catholic source though says:
Only in the late 1700's in France did churches, Catholic and Protestant, lose legal control over marriage. The Napoleonic Code of 1792 ordered all marriages to be civil. After that all countries began allowing civil marriages [Greg Dues, Catholic Customs and Traditions (revised edition, 2007) (New London: Twenty-Third Publications, 2007) p. 165].Simply because Luther and Calvin posited that the state regulate marriage, this did not mean that the hierarchy of the church didn't play any role in marriage. One can read quite a number of examples in Luther's writings in which he and the Lutheran church were involved in marital issues (this will be brought out below in evaluating some of the Luther quotes). Likewise with Calvin, one need only skim through the Registers of the Consistory of Geneva in the Time of Calvin and Adultery and Divorce in Calvin's Geneva to realize that the church was most certainly involved in marital issues.
What follows then are a number of quotes from Luther and one quote from Calvin. The Luther quotes appear to have been taken entirely from this web page, and done so by botching the documentation in most instances.
1.“Marriage is a civic matter. It is really not, together with all its circumstances, the business of the church.” It is so only when a matter of conscience is involved.” (source: What Luther Says Vol. II, Concordia Publishing House, 1959)
When the author cut-and-pasted this quote, he missed the page number (885). The quote is actually not something Luther said, but is something Luther is purported to have said. It's a Table Talk utterance found in WA tr 4, entry 4068. Here's how the quote actually reads:
No. 4068: Opinions on Several Marriage Problems October 15, 1538Notice the severity of the cases to which Luther refers. The first involves the fact that engagements were just as binding as actual marriages, and murder was involved. The second case involved theft. One sees easily how the cases were indeed civil. Luther is purported to be arguing here that these sort of issues are best evaluated by civil authorities.
Several matrimonial cases were presented on October 15. Before his marriage a certain engaged man committed murder and fled to an unknown place. Should the engaged woman be regarded as free from him? He [Luther] replied, “This is a civil matter, and the man is dead by civil law. But if the accused man can be cleared before civil law, he ought to take her as his wife in the name of the Lord.” A second case: A certain adulteress of ill repute finally took flight with her adulterer and carried some household utensils off with her. He [Luther] said that she should be summoned to appear, her case should be heard, and then they should be separated. “Cases like this belong to the civil government altogether [said Luther] because marriage is a civil affair. In all its outward circumstances it has nothing to do with the church, except insofar as there may be a case of conscience.” (LW 54:315).
2. “No one can deny that marriage is an external, worldly, matter, like clothing and food, house and property, subject to temporal authority, as the many imperial laws enacted on the subject prove.” (source: What Luther Says Vol. 46, Concordia Publishing House, 1959)
This is another quote probably taken from this web page, and cut-and-pasted incorrectly as "What Luther Says Vol. 46." What Luther Says is typically either three volumes or one. There is no "Vol. 46," there is though a volume 46 in Luther's Works (LW). The context explains that the entire regulation of marriage by the church wasn't being given over to the government:
No one can deny that marriage is an external, worldly matter, like clothing and food, house and property, subject to temporal authority, as the many imperial laws enacted on the subject prove. Neither do I find any example in the New Testament where Christ or the apostles concerned themselves with such matters, except where they touched upon consciences, as did St. Paul in I Corinthians 7 [:1–24], and especially where unbelievers or non-Christians are concerned, for it is easy to deal with these and all matters among Christians or believers. But with non-Christians, with which the world is filled, you cannot move forward or backward without the sharp edge of the temporal sword. And what use would it be if we Christians set up a lot of laws and decisions, as long as the world is not subject to us and we have no authority over it? (LW 46:265)
3. “I feel that judgments about marriages belong to the jurists. Since they make judgments concerning fathers, mothers, children, and servants, why shouldn’t they also make decisions about the life of married people? When the papists oppose the imperial law concerning divorce, I reply that this doesn’t follow from what is written, ‘What God has joined together let no man put asunder.” (source: Luther’s Works Vol. 54)
This is another quote probably taken from this web page, and cut-and-pasted incorrectly without the page number (66). The quote is actually not something Luther said, but is something Luther is purported to have said. It's Table Talk utterance #414. What's interesting about the complete context here is that Luther actually shows that in some instances the church plays a role in the affairs of marriage. Certainly though, the context does indicate that Luther believed certain aspects of marriage were to be under the direction of the government.
4. Neither is there any need to make sacraments out of marriage and the office of the priesthood.” (source: Luther’s Works Vol. 37)
This is another quote probably taken from this web page, and cut-and-pasted incorrectly without the page number (370). What one assumes is that for Luther marriage was just simply some sort of worldly affair because he denied it was a sacrament imparting grace. Note though what Luther actually states: "Neither is there any need to make sacraments out of marriage and the office of the priesthood. These orders are sufficiently holy in themselves."
5. “Not only is marriage regarded as a sacrament without the least warrant of Scripture, but the very ordinances which extol it as a sacrament have turned it into a farce. Let us look into this a little. We have said that in every sacrament there is a word of divine promise, to be believed by whoever receives the sign, and that the sign alone cannot be a sacrament. Nowhere do we read that the man who marries a wife receives any grace of God. There is not even a divinely instituted sign in marriage, nor do we read anywhere that marriage was instituted by God to be a sign of anything. To be sure, whatever takes place in a visible manner can be understood as a figure or allegory of something invisible. But figures or allegories are not sacraments, in the sense in which we use the term.” (source: Luther’s Works Vol. 36; Babylonian Captivity of the Church)
This is another quote probably taken from this web page, and cut-and-pasted incorrectly without the page number (92). The quote as it stands is actually a good representation of a point I made previously, that the Scriptures are silent in regard to marriage being a sacrament.
“The last of all is marriage, which, while all admit it to be an institution of God, no man ever saw to be a sacrament, until the time of Gregory. And would it ever have occurred to the mind of any sober man? It is a good and holy ordinance of God. And agriculture, architecture, shoemaking, and shaving, are lawful ordinances of God; but they are not sacraments. For in a sacrament, the thing required is not only that it be a work of God, but that it be an external ceremony appointed by God to confirm a promise. That there is nothing of the kind in marriage, even children can judge.” (source: Institutes of Religion, Chapter 19, no. 34).
It's hard to say where this quote was swiped from, but, once again, it's documented incorrectly by leaving out that the quote is from Book IV of the Institutes. Notice what Calvin affirms: marriage was instituted by God, and that it is a good and holy ordinance of God. But simply because it holds this pedigree doesn't mean it's a sacrament. Calvin goes on to document the abuse the Roman church committed in its complete regulation of marriage:
Not to have mocked the church simply in one thing, what a long train of errors, lies, frauds, and misdeeds have they attached to this one error? Thus, you may say that they sought nothing but a den of abominations when they made a sacrament out of marriage. For when they once obtained this, they took over the hearing of matrimonial cases; as it was a spiritual matter, it was not to be handled by secular judges. Then they passed laws by which they strengthened their tyranny, laws in part openly impious toward God, in part most unfair toward men. Such are these: That marriages between minors contracted without parental consent should remain firm and valid. That marriages between kinsfolk even to the seventh degree are not lawful, and if contracted, must be dissolved. They forge the very degrees, against the laws of all nations and also against the ordinance of Moses [Leviticus 18:6 ff.]: that a man who has put away an adulterous wife is not permitted to take another; that godparents may not be coupled in matrimony; that marriages may not be celebrated from Septuagesima to the octave of Easter, and in the three weeks before the nativity of John, and from Advent to Epiphany; and innumerable like regulations which would take too long to recount. At length, we must extricate ourselves from their mire, in which our discourse has already stuck longer than I should have liked. Still, I believe that I have accomplished something in that I have partly pulled the lion’s skin from these asses. (Institutes IV, 19, 37)
What the Reformers rebelled against was the complete control the Roman church had on marriage via canon law and the unbiblical notion of making marriage a means of infused grace. Ultimately, the issue of marriage was a sola scriptura issue. Rome claimed infallible authority over the estate of marriage. The Reformers responded by pointing out the Scriptures do not show that marriage is a sacrament, and the application of canon law demonstrates the severe fallibility of Roman authority.
Whatever mess marriage is in today, it would be an error to think that when Rome had complete control via canon law it was somehow more functional, and that marriage was in some sort of "golden age" previous to the 16th Century. The simple fact is that marriage previous to the Reformation had a whole host of problems. In a thoughtful essay [John Witte, The Reformation of Marriage Law in Martin Luther's Germany: Its significance Then and Now (Journal of Law and Religion, Vol. 4, No. 2 (1986), pp. 293-351] some of these problems include the following:
Luther and other German Protestant reformers attributed much of the decay of marriage not only to the negligence and arbitrariness of authority and the moral laxness of society but also to the canon laws of marriage and the Roman Catholic theological concepts of marriage underlying these laws. For the reformers the canon law of marriage yielded paradoxical results. It discouraged and prevented mature persons from marrying by its celebration of celibacy, its proscriptions against the breach of vows to celibacy, its permission to breach oaths of betrothal, and its numerous impediments. Yet it encouraged marriages between the immature by declaring valid secret unions consummated without parental permission as well as oaths of betrothal followed by sexual intercourse. It highlighted the sanctity and solemnity of marriage by deeming it a sacrament. Yet it permitted a couple to enter this holy union without clerical or parental witness, instruction, or participation. Celibate and impeded persons were thus driven by their sinful passion to incontinence and all manner of sexual deviance. Married couples, not taught the Scriptural norms for marriage, adopted numerous immoral practices. Such paradoxical results, the reformers averred, were rooted in tensions within the Roman Catholic theology of marriage. Although Roman Catholic theologians emphasized the sanctity and sanctifying purpose of the marriage sacrament, they nevertheless subordinated it to celibacy and monasticism. Although they taught that marriage is a duty mandated for all persons by divine natural law, they excused many from this duty through the restrictions of canon law. Both the Roman Catholic theology and the canon law of marriage thus met with sharp criticism on the part of the reformers.