Second, Christendom developed a new notion of romantic love, which is today one of the most powerful forces in our civilization. While marriages continued to be arranged in the West, especially among the more affluent classes, a new and alternative ideal emerged in the Middle Ages. This was the idea of love as the basis for getting married and also for preserving a happy marriage. I am not saying that people did not “fall in love” before the medieval era. But “falling in love” was previously considered a mild form of insanity, something that could not and should not be the basis for enduring marriage. The medieval Christians began to understand marriage between a man and a woman as a relationship similar to that between Christ and the church. The Bible portrays this relationship as intimate and passionate, certainly not as some kind of a mercenary bargain. So Christians began to view marriage as an intimate companionship enlivened by romantic passion.

Romantic love is today considered to be little more than a feeling, but that is a pale shadow of its original meaning. It was meant to be the culmination of a quest, to represent the high ideals of personal sacrifice and service to another. The concept was at first confined to the aristocracy, but it soon spread throughout society. The first hint of romance as an important social value emerges in the courtly love poems that fused erotic and spiritual love and focused it on a beautiful woman, usually unavailable. This literature of longing implanted the dream of romance in the mind of the West.

Third, Christianity introduced consent on the part of both the man and the woman as theprerequisite for marriage. Again, we take this for granted today, but you have only to go to Asia, Africa, or the Middle East to see that people there are frequently pressured into marriage against their will. I grew up in India, where marriages even today are often arranged by the parents. The West, however, since the early days of Christianity, has had marriage by choice and mutual agreement. This did not originate because of “equality between the sexes.”

Rather, it originated because of the Christian idea that each of us has a partner God made for us. Romantic feeling was perceived as an activity of the soul guiding us to find this lifelong companion. As fallible human beings we can be wrong about a lot of things, but we cannot be wrong in how we feel about someone else. At the same time, Christianity emphasized that free choice should also be binding choice. As we have consented to marry without coercion, we should live up to our vows and preserve marriage as a lifelong commitment.