Many people incorrectly believe that it was in the 16th century at the Council of Trent that the Catholic Church first began to require a priest’s or bishop’s approval to get married.
Actually, the need for a priest or bishop to bless the union of a man and woman in marriage (when one of them is Christian) goes back to the earliest centuries of Christianity.
Here are two quotes from two early Church fathers that demonstrate this historical fact:
“But it becomes both men and women who marry, to form their union with the approval of the bishop, that their marriage may be according to God, and not after their own lust. Let all things be done to the honor of God.” -St. Ignatius of Antioch (died around 98-117 AD)
“Since the contracting of marriage must be sanctified by the veiling and the blessing of the priest, how can there be any mention of a marriage, when unity of faith is wanting?” -St. Ambrose (340-397 AD)
At the Council of Trent in 1563, the Catholic Church merely reaffirmed what was taught by the earliest Christian leaders: “the approval of the bishop” and/or “the blessing of the priest” is necessary for marriage, at least for a sacramental marriage between two baptized Christians. The council did not declare anything new; it merely reaffirmed early Christian doctrine on marriage because Protestant heresiarchs were contradicting and rejecting such apostolic doctrines.
With the cultural and political ascendancy of Christianity in the 4th century, the State began to recognize as valid civil marriages only those marriages blessed by the Catholic Church. The State did not define marriage ultimately but merely recognized in civil law the definition of marriage in ecclesial canon law.
It was only after the Protestant Revolution that the State began to arrogantly presume the authority to define marriage however it wanted (cf. Henry VIII in England). Almost 500 years later, the State now presumes to call a same-sex sexual relationship a “marriage.”