Apology XXIII.59-71 >> Of the Marriage of Priests


By such reasons they set the minds of princes firmly against God’s judgment [the princes and bishops who believe this teaching will see whether their reasons will endure the test, when the hour of death arrives], in which God will call them to account as to why they have dissolved marriages, and why they have tortured [flogged and impaled] and killed priests [regardless of the cries, wails, and tears of so many widows and orphans].

Tuesday of Week 27

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59] We know that there is some offense in regard to schism, because we seem to have separated from those who are thought to be regular bishops. But our consciences are very secure, since we know that, though we most earnestly desire to establish harmony, we cannot please the adversaries unless we cast away manifest truth, and then agree with these very men in being willing to defend this unjust law, to dissolve marriages that have been contracted, to put to death priests if they do not obey, to drive poor women and fatherless children into exile. But since it is well established that these conditions are displeasing to God, we can in no way grieve that we have no alliance with the multitude of murderers among the adversaries.

60] We have explained the reasons why we cannot assent with a good conscience to the adversaries when they defend the pontifical law concerning perpetual celibacy, because it conflicts with divine and natural law and is at variance with the canons themselves, and is superstitious and full of danger, and, lastly, because the whole affair is insincere. For the law is enacted not for the sake of religion [not for holiness’ sake, or because they do not know better; they know very well that everybody is well acquainted with the condition of the great cloisters, which we are able to name], but for the sake of dominion, and this is wickedly given the pretext of religion. Neither can anything be produced by sane men against these 61] most firmly established reasons. The Gospel allows marriage to those to whom it is necessary. Nevertheless, it does not compel those to marry who can be continent, provided they be truly continent. We hold that this liberty should also be conceded to the priests, nor do we wish to compel any one by force to celibacy, nor to dissolve marriages that have been contracted.

62] We have also indicated incidentally, while we have recounted our arguments, how the adversaries cavil at several of these; and we have explained away these false accusations. Now we shall relate as briefly as possible with what important reasons 63] they defend the law. First, they say that it has been revealed by God. You see the extreme impudence of these sorry fellows. They dare to affirm that the law of perpetual celibacy has been divinely revealed, although it is contrary to manifest testimonies of Scripture, which command that to avoid fornication each one should have his own wife, 1 Cor. 7:2; which likewise forbid to dissolve marriages that have been contracted; cf. Matt. 5:32; 19:6; 1 Cor. 7:27. [What can the knaves say in reply? and how dare they wantonly and shamelessly misapply the great, most holy name of the divine Majesty?] Paul reminds us what an author such a law was to have when he calls it a doctrine of demons, 1 Tim. 4:1. And the fruits show their author, namely, so many monstrous lusts and so many murders which are now committed under the pretext of that law [as can be seen at Rome].

64] The second argument of the adversaries is that the priests ought to be pure, according to Is. 52:11: Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord. And they cite many things to this effect. This reason which they display we have above removed as especially specious. For we have said that virginity without faith is not purity before God, and marriage, on account of faith, is pure, according to Titus 1:15: Unto the pure all things are pure. We have said also this, that outward purity and the ceremonies of the Law are not to be transferred hither, because the Gospel requires purity of heart, and does not require the ceremonies of the Law. And it may occur that the heart of a husband, as of Abraham or Jacob, who were polygamists, is purer and burns less with lusts than that of many virgins who are even truly continent. But what Isaiah says: Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord, ought to be understood as referring to cleanness of heart and to the entire repentance. 65] Besides, the saints will know in the exercise of marriage how far it is profitable to restrain its use, and as Paul says, 1 Thess. 4:4 66] to possess his vessel in sanctification. Lastly, since marriage is pure, it is rightly said to those who are not continent in celibacy that they should marry wives in order to be pure. Thus the same law: Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord, commands that impure celibates become pure husbands [impure unmarried priests become pure married priests].

67] The third argument is horrible, namely, that the marriage of priests is the heresy of Jovinian. Fine-sounding words! [Pity on our poor souls, dear sirs; proceed gently!] This is a new crime, that marriage [which God instituted in Paradise] is a heresy! [In that case all the world would be children of heretics.] In the time of Jovinian the world did not as yet know the law concerning perpetual celibacy. [This our adversaries know very well.] Therefore it is an impudent falsehood that the marriage of priests is the heresy of Jovinian, or that such marriage was then condemned by the Church. 68] In such passages we can see what design the adversaries had in writing the Confutation. They judged that the ignorant would be thus most easily excited, if they would frequently hear the reproach of heresy, if they pretend that our cause had been dispatched and condemned by many previous decisions of the Church. Thus they frequently cite falsely the judgment of the Church. Because they are not ignorant of this, they were unwilling to exhibit to us a copy of their Apology, lest this falsehood and these reproaches might be exposed. Our opinion, however, as regards the case of Jovinian, concerning the comparison of virginity 69] and marriage, we have expressed above. For we do not make marriage and virginity equal, although neither virginity nor marriage merits justification.

70] By such false arguments they defend a law that is godless and destructive to good morals. By such reasons they set the minds of princes firmly against God’s judgment [the princes and bishops who believe this teaching will see whether their reasons will endure the test, when the hour of death arrives], in which God will call them to account as to why they have dissolved marriages, and why they have tortured [flogged and impaled] and killed priests [regardless of the cries, wails, and tears of so many widows and orphans]. For do not doubt but that, as the blood of dead Abel cried out, Gen. 4:10, so the blood of many good men, against whom they have unjustly raged, will also cry out. And God will avenge this cruelty; there you will discover how empty are these reasons of the adversaries, and you will perceive that in God’s judgment no calumnies against God’s Word remain standing, as Isaiah says, 40:6: All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field [that their arguments are straw and hay, and God a consuming fire, before whom nothing but God’s Word can abide, 1 Pet. 1:24 ].

71] Whatever may happen, our princes will be able to console themselves with the consciousness of right counsels, because even though the priests would have done wrong in contracting marriages, yet this disruption of marriages, these proscriptions, and this cruelty are manifestly contrary to the will and Word of God. Neither does novelty or dissent delight our princes, but especially in a matter that is not doubtful more regard had to be paid to the Word of God than to all other things.

(…to be continued)


  Today’s reader: Pr. Mark Brown

Mark is the Pastor of St. Mark’s Lutheran in West Henrietta, NY. Father of three, husband of one, hoarder of books. You can twitter him @brownmp.

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