Augsburg Confession – Article 23 – Marriage of the Priests

Article 23 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

(To read Article 22, click here.)

A loud and powerful complaint has been voiced in the world by people of every station, both high and low, about the terrible sexual immorality and boorish behavior and lifestyle of the priests who were not capable of remaining chaste, and there were always instances where such horrifying depravities reached their worst. In order to avoid so much repulsive, terrible scandal, adultery, and other sexual immorality, some of our priests have entered the married estate. As the reason, they cite that they have been compelled and moved to do so out of the deep distress of their conscience, since Scripture clearly declares that the married estate was instituted by God the Lord to avoid sexual immorality, as Paul says, “To avoid sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife”;1 likewise, “It is better to get married than to burn.”2 And since Christ says in Matthew 19, “They do not all adopt this principle,” there Christ, who knew well what humans are capable of, is indicating that few people have the gift to live in chastity. For “God has created humans male and female” (Genesis 1). Now whether it is within human power or capacity to improve upon or alter the arrangement of God the Great Majesty, without any special gift and grace of God, through one’s own undertaking or vow—experience has made that answer all too clear. For what sort of good, what sort of honorable, virtuous life, what sort of Christian, honorable, or respectable behavior results from this for many people, what horrifying and terrible uneasiness and torment many have had in their consciences on this account at the very end of their life—this is all as clear as day, and many of them have acknowledged it themselves. If then God’s word and command may not be altered by any human vow or law, these are the reasons and grounds, along with others, upon which the priests and other clergymen have taken wives.

Second page of Article 23 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

It can also be demonstrated from the histories and the Fathers’ writings that, in the Christian church of old, the custom was that the priests and deacons had wives. This is why Paul says in 1 Timothy 3, “A bishop should be irreproachable, a one-woman man.” It also was not until four hundred years ago that the priests in German lands were compelled by force to take a vow of chastity from marriage, and they collectively resisted it, and their resistance was so very fervent and harsh that an archbishop in Mainz, who had published the new papal edict about the matter, was very nearly crushed in an uprising of the entire body of priests.3 And right from the start that prohibition was undertaken so rashly and improperly that the pope at the time not only prohibited the priests from marrying in the future, but also dissolved the marriages of those who had already been in that estate for a long time. This not only runs completely contrary to all divine, natural, and secular law, but also goes completely against the canons that the popes themselves have made4 and against the most renowned church councils.5

Also, the same talk and misgivings can often be heard from the mouths of many high-born, God-fearing, and intelligent people, namely that such forced celibacy and deprival of marriage, which God himself has instituted and left free, has never introduced any benefit, but many great, wicked depravities and much harm instead. Even one of the popes himself, Pius II, as his history demonstrates, often expressed the following sentiment both orally and in writing: There may well be some reasons to forbid marriage to the clergy, but there are many higher, greater, and more important reasons to leave marriage open to them again.6 Without a doubt, Pope Pius said this as an intelligent, wise man, out of grave misgivings.

Therefore, in submission to the Imperial Majesty, we wish to hold out hope that Your Majesty, as a highly esteemed, Christian emperor, will graciously take to heart that at present, in the final times and days of which Scripture informs us, the world is getting increasingly worse and humans are becoming increasingly frailer and weaker. It is therefore certainly very necessary, beneficial, and Christian to observe this fact diligently, so that by forbidding marriage, worse and more shameful sexual immorality and depravity does not run rampant in German lands. For there will never be anyone who can more wisely change or improve this matter but God himself, who has instituted marriage to assist human frailty and to restrain sexual immorality.

The ancient canons also say that one must at times soften and relax strictness and rigor for the sake of human weakness and to prevent and avoid frustration.7 Now that would certainly also be the Christian thing to do in this case, and most highly necessary. And if the priests and clergymen are permitted to marry, what possible downside can there be for ordinary Christian churches, not to mention for the parsons and others who are supposed to serve the church? There will certainly be a lack of priests and parsons in the future, if this harsh prohibition of marriage continues much longer.

Third page of Article 23 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

So now this position, namely that priests and clergymen may get married, is founded on the divine Word and command. In addition, the histories prove that the priests used to be married. So too, the vow of chastity has produced so much repulsive and unchristian scandal, so much adultery, terrible, unbefitting sexual immorality and horrifying depravity that even some of the more honest canons, and even some of the courtiers in Rome, have themselves often acknowledged this and lodged complaints that, since such depravity among the clergy is too horrifying and out of control, God’s wrath is going to be stirred up. With all this being the case, it is therefore all the more deplorable that Christian marriage has not just been forbidden, but treated as grounds for the swiftest punishment as if it were a serious crime, even though God has commanded in Holy Scripture that we treat the married estate with all respect. So too, the married estate is highly praised in the imperial laws and in all the monarchies that have ever had laws and rights. It was not until recently that the people began to be innocently martyred just because of marriage – including priests, who should be the first to be spared – and this takes place not just contrary to divine law, but also contrary to the canons. Paul the apostle, in 1 Timothy 4, calls the doctrine that forbids marriage the devil’s doctrine. Christ himself says in John 8 that the devil was a murderer from the beginning, which then perfectly agrees that it certainly must be the devil’s doctrine to forbid marriage and to undertake to uphold such doctrine with bloodshed.

But just as no human law can set aside or alter God’s command, no vow can alter God’s command either. That is why Saint Cyprian also gives the advice that the women who do not keep the chastity they have vowed should get married, and this is what he says in Epistle 11: “But if they do not want to or are unable to keep chastity, then it is better for them to get married than to fall into the fire through their desire, and they should be very careful not to cause the brothers and sisters to be scandalized.”8

In addition, all the canons similarly practice great lenience and moderation toward those who made a vow in their youth,9 which is exactly how the priests and monks in the majority of cases have entered that estate – in their youth and in ignorance.

(To continue to Article 24, click here.)

Notes

1 1 Corinthians 7:2

2 1 Corinthians 7:9

3 According to Lambert of Hersfeld’s (c. 1028-no later than 1085) Annales, which had been published in 1525 at Melanchthon’s instigation, the archbishop in question was Siegfried I, Archbishop of Mainz from 1060-1084, and the uprising in question took place at the synods in Erfurt and Mainz in 1075.

4 See Gratian’s Decretum, Part 1, Distinction 82, Chapters 2-5, and Distinction 84, Chapter 4 here (type 331 and 337, respectively, in the “Jump to page” field and click Go).

5 See the accounts of Bishop Paphnutius’ exhortations at the First Council of Nicaea by Socrates Scholasticus (born c. 380; history penned c. 440) and Sozomen (born c. 400; history penned c. 445).

6 Platina (1421-1481), in his book on the lives of Christ and all the popes, cites this among the statements made by Pope Pius II (r. 1458-1464): Sacerdotibus magna ratione sublatas nuptias maiori restituendas videri (see e.g. fol. 128b, lines 33-34, in the 1485 Treviso edition).

7 See Gratian’s Decretum, Part 1, Distinction 34, Chapter 7, and Part 2, Subject 1, Question 7, Chapter 5 here (type 180 and 465, respectively, in the “Jump to page” field and click Go).

8 Epistle 61, 2 (Oxford ed.: 4, 2), available in English here and in Latin (where it is numbered 62) in cols. 366,367 here. (Melanchthon is citing the letter according to Erasmus’ numbering.)

9 See Gratian’s Decretum, Part 2, Subject 20, Question 1, Chapters 5, 7, 9, 10, 14, and 15 here (type 872 in the “Jump to page” field and click Go).

Luther Visualized 6 – Reform

The German Hercules

Hans Holbein the Younger, Hercules Germanicus, woodcut, c. 1519

This was not part of my sermon and service folder series, but I wanted to include it with this online series. In the midst of Martin Luther’s instructional and reformatory writings of 1519 and 1520, Hans Holbein the Younger of Basel produced this woodcut of “The German Hercules.” Luther with his tonsure and Augustinian habit, from which a lion’s skin hangs down protracted, holds a knotty club with long, sharp spikes in his right hand, in order to deal a crushing blow to the last of his opponents, which he holds down by the neck with his left hand. He is Jacob van Hoogstraaten, the Dominican doctor of theology and inquisitor of Cologne. (Perhaps Holbein produced this woodcut after being acquainted with Luther’s 1519 work A Page Against Jacob Hoogstraaten.) A string is drawn from Luther’s nose, which has a strangled pope hanging from the end of it. Beneath Luther the following have already been beaten down so that they lie there powerless: Aristotle, the philosopher; Thomas Aquinas; William of Ockham; an unnamed monk; Nicholas of Lyra, directly beneath Luther’s feet with his commentary on the Bible in hand; Peter Lombard, wearing a beret, virtually crushed by those around him, and holding his book (which reads “L. IV SENTENCIAR” – short for Libri IV Sententiarum [Four Books of Sentences] – in reflected letters); Robert Holcot, an English Dominican scholastic philospher, theologian, and influential Bible scholar; and Duns Scotus, who was known for his commentary on Lombard’s Sentences, is not visible. In the background are some houses, apparently belonging to a village, beneath a mountain. Between the village and the foreground another hooded, tasseled figure makes good his escape.

The colorized version of this woodcut appeared in the eighth book of the Schweizerchronik by Heinrich Brennwald and his son-in-law Johannes Stumpf, for the beginning of the year 1519. Beneath the woodcut are six Latin distichs, which read:

Do you not shudder, wicked Rome, at your enemy Luther,
the German Hercules, as he does away with monsters?

You see, do you not, how he has suspended the tripled Geryon [allusion to the three-tiered papal tiara]
from an aquiline nose, and how the drooping crest wearies the head?

See for yourself with what might he strikes down the raving sophists,
and how the agile club besets the rabid dogs.

Behold, what falls is a multitude gone mad, to whom Cerberus himself
is inferior, and a Hydra reproducing in new throats.

Why not then acknowledge the gallant man as both lord and father,
since you stretched out conquered hands to him when you were stung the first time?

There has been error enough, believe me; be sensible and cleanse yourself again,
or else impure Lerna’s sacred flame awaits you.

In a December 27, 1531, sermon on Isaiah 9:6, in talking about Christ as a Champion who “deals out blows left and right” “without swinging a sword,” Luther wittingly or not paid tribute to this portrayal of himself:

So too today, what have I done to the pope? I have not taken so much as a Heller [or dime] from him. I simply swing the gospel at the monks, nuns, priests, and bishops, and all their errors and idols have fallen to the ground.

Sources
Theophil Burckhardt-Biedermann, “Über Zeit und Anlaß des Flugblattes: Luther als Hercules Germanicus,” Basler Zeitschrift für Geschichte und Altertumskunde, vol. 4 (1905), pp. 38-40

Martin Luther, Luther at the Manger: Christmas Sermons on Isaiah 9:6 (Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 2017), pp. 49-51

Title page from a first edition of Martin Luther’s Prelude on the Babylonian Captivity of the Church (Wittenberg, 1520); full book viewable here

1519 and 1520 were truly the years of the Reformation proper, as far as Luther’s writings are concerned. Among his instructional writings were his lectures on Galatians (May 1519, eventually replaced by his 1535 edition); lectures on Psalms 1-21 (1519), Meditation on Christ’s Passion (1519); Exposition of the Lord’s Prayer (April 1519); A Brief Form of the Ten Commandments; A Brief Form of the Creed; A Brief Form of the Lord’s Prayer (1520); A Sermon on Preparing to Die (October 1519); A Sermon on Usury (1519); A Sermon on the Sacrament of Penance (1519); A Brief Instruction on How Confession Should Be Made (January 1519) and How to Confess (March 1520); A Sermon on the Holy and Blessed Sacrament of Baptism (1519); A Sermon on the Blessed Sacrament of the Holy and True Body of Christ, and the Brotherhoods (1519); and his Treatise on Good Works (May 1520).

His two major reformatory writings were To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation Concerning the Reform of the Christian Estate (June 1520), in which he demanded that the papacy be reformed and celibacy for the priests abolished and proposed that every city should care for its own poor people (leading to the first congregational charity program), and his Prelude on the Babylonian Captivity of the Church (October 1520; pictured), in which he denied that there were seven sacraments and confessed only three or two (depending on whether an external element was part of the definition of sacrament), denied the doctrine of transubstantiation and taught the real presence, and taught that priests should be elected and permitted to marry. The latter work gained such notoriety that it was even rebutted by King Henry VIII of England.

Commentary on 1 Timothy 4:12

By Johann Gerhard, Th. D.

Translator’s Preface

The following was translated from Adnotationes ad Priorem D. Pauli ad Timotheum Epistolam, in Quibus Textus Declaratur, Quaestiones Dubiae Solvuntur, Observationes Eruunter, & Loca in Speciem Pugnantia Quam Brevissime Conciliantur (Commentary on St. Paul’s First Letter to Timothy, in Which the Text Is Explained, Difficult Questions Are Answered, Observations Are Drawn, and Seemingly Contradictory Passages Are Reconciled as Concisely as Possible), 3rd ed. (Leipzig, 1712), pp. 68,69, available from lutheranlegacy.org.

It was undertaken in conjunction with preparations for a graduation sermon to be delivered at a Lutheran high school. The translations of the church fathers in the footnotes are the translator’s own.

Through it may God encourage young pastors and Christians not to demand respect, but to earn, win, and compel it from believers and unbelievers by godly words and actions.

1 Timothy 4:12

Μηδείς σου τῆς νεότητος καταφρονείτω ἀλλὰ τύπος γίνου τῶν πιστῶν ἐν λόγῳ ἐν ἀναστροφῇ ἐν ἀγάπῃ ἐν πνεύματι ἐν πίστει ἐν ἁγνείᾳ.

Nemo adulescentiam tuam contemnat sed exemplum esto fidelium in verbo in conversatione in caritate in fide in castitate.

  • Μηδείς σου τῆς νεότητος καταφρονείτω

The Greeks interpret thus: μὴ πάρεχε αἰτίαν τινὶ τοῦ καταφρονῆσαι τῆς νεότητός σου [Do not afford anyone an occasion to look down on your youth].1 The phrase can be taken two ways:

  1. Do not allow yourself, even though you are young, to be despised by those over whom you have charge, but exercise the authority of your office (Titus 2:15).
  2. Conduct yourself with such dignity, chastity, moderation, and prudence that no one may regard you as inferior because of your age. Behave in such a way that no one may have just cause for despising your youth.

The second sense is acquired from the antithesis.

Youth covers a range of ages that stretches beyond age 30, lest anyone think that Timothy was a young man of 20 or so years when Paul was writing this to him. In Acts 7:58 Paul is called a νεάνιος [young man] at a time when he was nearly 35 years old.

Conclusion: Lest Timothy be held in low esteem because of his youth, the apostle instructs him to show himself to the faithful as an example and pattern according to which they may order their lives and adjust their actions.

  • Ἀλλὰ τύπος γίνου τῶν πιστῶν

A τύπος is a distinct pattern to which something else corresponds as an ἀντίτυπον, so to speak.

  • Ἐν λόγῳ

Paraphrase: “You should set forth the doctrine of the divine word with integrity,” or, “You should speak with dignity and prudence for the edification of others.” The former interpretation is confirmed by 2 Corinthians 6:7, where Paul adds two words: ἐν λόγῳ τῆς ἀληθείας [in speech of the truth].

  • Ἐν ἀναστροφῇ

Paraphrase: “You should build others up by living your everyday life in a holy way.”

  • Ἐν ἀγάπῃ

Paraphrase: “Charity2 toward your neighbor should shine out from all your actions.”

  • Ἐν πνεύματι

That is, “in zeal of the Spirit, in pious devotion, in holiness.” Chrysostom and the interpreters of the Vulgate do not include this phrase. Theophylact and Oecumenius interpret πνεύμα here as a spiritual character or special gift, as if the apostle were warning Timothy not to be puffed up by living this way.3 But it is more properly understood as the Holy Spirit (see 2 Corinthians 6:6), which yields this sense: Timothy ought to demonstrate with his deeds that he has the ardor of the Holy Spirit and the zeal of God.

  • Ἐν πίστει

Paraphrase: “You should preach the faith boldly,” or, “You should exhibit your faith by your good works” (see James 2:17,18).

  • Ἐν ἁγνείᾳ

Paraphrase: “You should exhibit purity in words and actions.”

Ἐκδίκησις4: Estius5 seeks proof for the celibacy of the priests in this phrase, since being content with one wife “is the basest kind of chastity.”6 We respond:

  1. Ἅγνεια also signifies purity or immunity from carnal human desires.
  2. Conjugal chastity is often more honorable than virginal chastity.
  3. Even the papists acknowledge that celibacy does not come from divine right.

Footnotes

1 Homily 13 on 1 Timothy: “ ‘Let no one despise your youth,’ he says. Do you see that the priest should also command and speak with strong authority, and not just teach everything? For I think you’ll agree that youth has become a thing easy to despise in the common mind. So he says, ‘Let no one despise your youth.’ For it is also necessary that the teacher be unable to be despised. ‘Then what about gentleness?’ you might ask. ‘Then what about meekness, if he may not be despised?’ In matters where he alone is concerned, let him be despised and let him bear it. For in this way his teaching will prosper by his patient endurance. But in matters where others are concerned, he should tolerate it no longer. For that is not gentleness, but coldness. If a man avenges insults to himself, injuries to himself, plots against himself, you have good reason to accuse him. But where the salvation of others is concerned, command and take care of the matter with authority. What’s needed then is not gentleness, but authority, lest it do harm to the entire community. ‘Either command,’ he says, ‘or teach. Let no one despise you on account of your youth. For as long as you exhibit a life with this kind of counterbalance, no one will despise you because of your age any longer, and they will even admire you instead’ ” (John Chrysostom, Patrologiae Graecae, vol. 62, S. P. N. Joannis Chrysostomi, Archiepiscopi Constantinopolitani, Opera Omnia Quae Exstant [Paris: J.-P. Migne, 1862], pp. 564,565).

Interpretation of 1 Timothy: “ ‘Let no one despise your youth.’ But this does not have to do with me. Why then do you command me about things that concern others? ‘But be an example to the faithful.’ ‘Do you wish,’ he says, ‘not to be despised as you are commanding [vs. 11]? Become a living law. Show in yourself the perfection of the laws you lay down. Make your life bear witness to your message’ ” (Theodoret, Patrologiae Graecae, vol. 82, Theodoreti Cyrensis Episcopi Opera Omnia [Paris: J.-P. Migne, 1864], pp. 815,816).

Commentary on 2 Timothy: “ ‘Since the common opinion regards youth as a thing easy to despise,’ he says, ‘command with strong authority and do not let anyone despise you.’ For it is also necessary that the teacher be unable to be despised. Then what about meekness? When there is need to avenge insults to himself, let him be meek. But when there is need for austerity for the sake of the salvation of others, let him command boldly. Another interpretation: ‘Exhibit a decent life, and your youth will not be despised, even though it is naturally easy to despise. It will rather be admired’ ” (Theophylact, Patrologiae Graecae, vol. 125, Theophylacti, Bulgariae Archiepiscopi Constantinopolitani, Opera Quae Reperiri Potuerunt Omnia [Paris: J.-P. Migne, 1864], pp. 57-60).

Commentary on 2 Timothy: “ ‘Let no one despise your youth.’ For it is also necessary that the bishop speak with strong authority. Then what about, ‘Let your gentleness be known to all people’ [Philippians 4:5]? To that we answer: Among people who are wronging only him, he ought to be meek. But among people who are wronging erring brothers, let him be austere. Or you could take it this way: ‘If you lead an exceptionally decent life, your youth will not be despised, even though it has a natural tendency to be despised’ ” (Oecumenius, Patrologiae Graecae, vol. 119, Oecumenii, Triccae in Thessalia Episcopi, Opera Omnia [Paris: J.-P. Migne, 1864], pp. 171,172).

2 “ ‘Charity’ now means simply what used to be called ‘alms’—that is, giving to the poor. Originally it had a much wider meaning. … Charity means ‘Love, in the Christian sense’. But love, in the Christian sense, does not mean an emotion. It is a state not of the feelings but of the will; that state of the will which we have naturally about ourselves, and must learn to have about other people” (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity [New York, NY: HarperOne, 2001], p. 129). Lewis’ entire chapter “Charity” is worth reading.

3 “Ἐν πνεύματι. Either with a spiritual character or with a special spiritual gift (ἢ τῷ χαρίσματι), so that you do not become puffed up by your charity toward everyone” (Theophylact, op. cit., 59,60).

Oecumenius differs very little and translates into English exactly the same (op. cit., 171,172).

4 Ἐκδίκησις means avenging or vindication. Gerhard includes these as opportunities to let the opponents of specific points of Lutheran doctrine (usually Estius) speak their part, in order to vindicate the Lutheran position as the biblical one and prove the opposing position unbiblical.

5 Gerhard cites this eminent Roman Catholic theologian (1542-1613) throughout the commentary. In addition to refuting him, Gerhard borrows much of his work in phrasing his own interpretation.

6 Guilielmus Estius, In Omnes Pauli Epistolas, Item in Catholicas Commentarii, vol. 5 (Mainz: Kirchheim, Schott, & Theilmann, 1843), p. 203.

Gerhard himself would have referred to the original Douai edition (1614-16).