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Confession: Apology XXIII 36-70

by PastorWilliams on May 16th, 2016


Lastly, if they understand that celibacy is purity in the sense that it merits justification more than does marriage, we most emphatically contradict it. For we are justified neither on account of virginity nor on account of marriage, but freely for Christ’s sake, when we believe that for His sake 37] God is propitious to us. Here perhaps they will exclaim that, according to the manner of Jovinian, marriage is made equal to virginity. But, on account of such clamors we shall not reject the truth concerning the righteousness 38] of faith, which we have explained above. Nevertheless we do not make virginity and marriage equal. For just as one gift surpasses another, as prophecy surpasses eloquence, the science of military affairs surpasses agriculture, and eloquence surpasses architecture, so virginity is a more excellent gift than 39] marriage. And nevertheless, just as an orator is not more righteous before God because of his eloquence than an architect because of his skill in architecture, so a virgin does not merit justification by virginity more than a married person merits it by conjugal duties, but each one ought faithfully to serve in his own gift, and to believe that for Christ’s sake he receives the remission of sins and by faith is accounted righteous before God.

40] Neither does Christ or Paul praise virginity because it justifies, but because it is freer and less distracted with domestic occupations, in praying, teaching, [writing,] serving. For this reason Paul says, 1 Cor. 7:32: He that is unmarried careth for the things which belong to the Lord. Virginity, therefore, is praised on account of meditation and study. Thus Christ does not simply praise those who make themselves eunuchs, but adds, for the kingdom of heaven’s sake, i.e., that they may have leisure to learn or teach the Gospel; for He does not say that virginity merits the remission of sins or salvation.

41] To the examples of the Levitical priests we have replied that they do not establish the duty of imposing perpetual celibacy upon the priests. Furthermore, the Levitical impurities are not to be transferred to us. [The law of Moses, with the ceremonial statutes concerning what is clean or unclean, do not at all concern us Christians.] Then intercourse contrary to the Law was an impurity. Now it is not impurity, because Paul says, Titus 1:15: Unto the pure all things are pure. For the Gospel frees us from these 42] Levitical impurities [from all the ceremonies of Moses, and not alone from the laws concerning uncleanness]. And if any one defends the law of celibacy with the design to burden consciences by these Levitical observances, we must strive against this, just as the apostles in Acts 15:10sqq. strove against those who required circumcision and endeavored to impose the Law of Moses upon Christians.

43] Yet, in the meanwhile, good men will know how to control the use of marriage, especially when they are occupied with public offices, which often, indeed, give good men so much labor as to expel all domestic thoughts from their minds. [For to be burdened with great affairs and transactions, which concern commonwealths and nations, governments and churches, is a good remedy to keep the old Adam from lustfulness.] Good men know also this, that Paul, 1 Thess. 4:4, commands that every one possess his vessel in sanctification [and honor, not in the lust of concupiscence]. They know likewise that they must sometimes retire, in order that there may be leisure for prayer; but Paul does not wish this 44] to be perpetual, 1 Cor. 7:5. Now such continence is easy to those who are good and occupied. But this great crowd of unemployed priests which is in the fraternities cannot afford, in this voluptuousness, even this Levitical continence, as the facts show. [On the other hand, what sort of chastity can there be among so many thousands of monks and priests who live without worry in all manner of delights, being idle and full, and, moreover, have not the Word of God, do not learn it, and have no regard for it. Such conditions bring on all manner of inchastity. Such people can observe neither Levitical nor perpetual chastity.] And the lines are well known: The boy accustomed to pursue a slothful life hates those who are busy.

45] Many heretics understanding the Law of Moses incorrectly have treated marriage with contempt, for whom, nevertheless, celibacy has gained extraordinary admiration. And Epiphanius complains that, by this commendation especially, the Encratites captured the minds of the unwary. They abstained from wine even in the Lord’s Supper; they abstained from the flesh of all animals, in which they surpassed the Dominican brethren, who live upon fish. They abstained also from marriage; and just this gained the chief admiration. These works, these services, they thought, merited grace more than the use of wine and flesh, and than marriage, which seemed to be a profane and unclean matter, and which scarcely could please God, even though it were not altogether condemned.

46] Paul to the Colossians 2:18, greatly disapproves these angelic forms of worship. For when men believe that they are pure and righteous on account of such hypocrisy, they suppress the knowledge of Christ, and suppress also the knowledge of God’s gifts and commandments. For God wishes 47] us to use His gifts in a godly way. And we might mention examples where certain godly consciences were greatly disturbed on account of the lawful use of marriage. This evil was derived from the opinions of monks superstitiously praising celibacy [and proclaiming the married estate as a life that would be a great obstacle to salvation, and full of sins]. 48] Nevertheless we do not find fault with temperance or continence, but we have said above that exercises and mortifications of the body are necessary. We indeed deny that confidence should be placed in certain observances, as though they made righteous. 49] And Epiphanius has elegantly said that these observances ought to be praised ((greek)), i.e., for restraining the body or on account of public morals; just as certain rites were instituted for instructing the ignorant, and not as services that justify.

50] But it is not through superstition that our adversaries require celibacy, for they know that chastity is not ordinarily rendered [that at Rome, also in all their monasteries, there is nothing but undisguised, unconcealed inchastity. Nor do they seriously intend to lead chaste lives, but knowingly practise hypocrisy before the people]. But they feign superstitious opinions, so as to delude the ignorant. They are therefore more worthy of hatred than the Encratites, who seem to have erred by show of religion; these Sardanapali [Epicureans] designedly misuse the pretext of religion.

51] Sixthly. Although we have so many reasons for disapproving the law of perpetual celibacy, yet, besides these, dangers to souls and public scandals also are added, which even, though the law were not unjust, ought to deter good men from approving such a burden as has destroyed innumerable souls.

52] For a long time all good men [their own bishops and canons) have complained of this burden, either on their own account, or on account of others whom they saw to be in danger. But no Popes give ear to these complaints. Neither is it doubtful how greatly injurious to public morals this law is, and what vices and shameful lusts it has produced. The Roman satires are extant. In these Rome still recognizes and reads its own morals.

53] Thus God avenges the contempt of His own gift and ordinance in those who prohibit marriage. But since the custom in regard to other laws was that they should be changed if manifest utility would advise it, why is the same not done with respect to this law, in which so many weighty reasons concur, especially in these last times, why a change ought to be made? Nature is growing old and is gradually becoming weaker, and vices are increasing; wherefore the remedies 54] divinely given should have been employed. We see what vice it was which God denounced before the Flood, what He denounced before the burning of the five cities. Similar vices have preceded the destruction of many other cities, as of Sybaris and Rome. And in these there has been presented an image of the times which will be next to the end of things. 55] Accordingly, at this time, marriage ought to have been especially defended by the most severe laws and warning examples, and men ought to have been invited to marriage. This duty pertains to the magistrates, who ought to maintain public discipline. [God has now so blinded the world that adultery and fornication are permitted almost without punishment; on the contrary, punishment is inflicted on account of marriage. Is not this terrible to hear?] Meanwhile the teachers of the Gospel should do both; they should exhort incontinent men to marriage, and should exhort others not to despise the gift of continence.

56] The Popes daily dispense and daily change other laws which are most excellent, yet, in regard to this one law of celibacy, they are as iron and inexorable, although, indeed, it is manifest that this is simply of human right. 57] And they are now making this law more grievous in many ways. The canon bids them suspend priests; these rather unfriendly interpreters suspend them not from office, but from trees. They cruelly kill many men for nothing but marriage. [It is to be feared, therefore, that the blood of Abel will cry to heaven so loudly as not to be endured, and that we shall have to tremble like Cain.] 58] And these very parricides show that this law is a doctrine of demons. For since the devil is a murderer, he defends his law by these parricides.

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.


Again, we take up the issue of enforced priestly celibacy. After giving five reasons for opposing enforced celibacy, Melanchthon spends the last half of this article taking up the greatest of the Roman reasons for celibacy.

The previous reasons against priestly celibacy were:
* People were created to be fruitful (Genesis 1:28).
* The natural right for man and woman to get married will never be nullified.
* “Because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife” (1 Corinthians 7:2).
* Enforced priestly celibacy was a fairly recent invention.
* The Roman canonists spread superstitious opinions about celibacy and purity.

This last point is where the line is truly crossed in enforced priestly celibacy. Melanchthon begins this section, “Finally, if they understand is pure in the sense that it merits justification more than marriage does, we most forcefully deny it” (paragraph 36). Roman Catholics believe that marriage is a sacrament and applies some form of justification to the husband and the wife. Some of the scholastic theologians throughout the centuries have tried to show that celibacy is much greater than marriage and therefore gives a better form of justification.

Melanchthon makes the point, as he did with the invocation of the saints, that justification only comes through Christ. You are not any more justified if you are celibate than if you are married. You are not any more justified if you are married than if you are not. Neither marriage nor celibacy can forgive sins. God did not design either for that purpose.

Melanchthon ends this article with the strongest encouragement for the protection of marriage with the strictest laws available. It is one of God’s gifts. It should not be tossed aside so frivolously. God created marriage so that man would not be alone (Genesis 2:18).

From → Confessions

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