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Matthew Alice:

Who created the marriage vows "to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish till death do us part"? It's a traditional part of the Protestant ceremony, but who gets credit for writing it?

-- Kent, Del Mar

He certainly was a starry-eyed optimist, whoever he was. But the vows are so ancient, I guess no one could have anticipated they'd eventually come to mean, "To have and to hold from this day forward, till we don't feel like it any more and our lawyers and pre-nups do us part." So say it's the mid-16th Century. England. You and your favorite wench decide to get hitched. The vows you'd say would be virtually identical to those said today. In fact, most of the ceremony would be quite recognizable to a modern onlooker. It was first set down in the Book of Common Prayer, formally issued in England in 1549. The full political and religious history is complicated, but the English-language book was an attempt to simplify and make comprehensible to the average person the very arcane Latin prayers, sacraments, and ceremonies of the Catholic Church of the time. The book's been revised many times, but the wedding vows remain intact.

Clergymen who assembled the first BCP borrowed from lots of sources, including German Reformists, traditional Jewish texts, and, of course, Catholic liturgy. The wedding vows were taken from the ceremony set down in the Sarum prayer book, an English translation and interpretation of the Latin services used in Salisbury Cathedral. That book dates back to the 13th Century. A single author is unlikely. The vows evolved into that form. But once books could be printed in multiple copies and identical form, change slowed down. And I suppose, given enough time and enough graduate students, we could devise a list of probable contributors to the vows, but, well, not tonight, Kent, we have a headache.

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