Article XXIII. Of the Marriage of Priests
1] There has been common complaint concerning the examples of priests who were not chaste. 2] For that reason also Pope Pius is reported to have said that there were certain causes why marriage was taken away from priests, but that there were far weightier ones why it ought to be given back; for so Platina writes. 3] Since, therefore, our priests were desirous to avoid these open scandals, they married wives, and taught that it was lawful for them to contract matrimony. First, because 4] Paul says, 1 Cor. 7, 2. 9: To avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife. Also: It is better to marry than to burn. Secondly 5] Christ says, Matt. 19, 11: All men cannot receive this saying, where He teaches that not all men are fit to lead a single life; for God created man for procreation, Gen. 1, 28. 6] Nor is it in man's power, without a singular gift and work of God, to alter this creation. [For it is manifest, and many have confessed that no good, honest, chaste life, no Christian, sincere, upright conduct has resulted (from the attempt), but a horrible, fearful unrest and torment of conscience has been felt by many until the end.] Therefore, 7] those who are not fit to lead a single life ought to 8] contract matrimony. For no man's law, no vow, can annul the commandment and ordinance of God. For these reasons 9] the priests teach that it is lawful for them to marry wives.
10] It is also evident that in the ancient Church priests were married men. 11] For Paul says, 1 Tim. 3, 2, that a bishop should be chosen who is the husband of one wife. 12] And in Germany, four hundred years ago for the first time, the priests were violently compelled to lead a single life, who indeed offered such resistance that the Archbishop of Mayence, when about to publish the Pope's decree concerning this matter, was almost killed in the tumult raised by the enraged priests. 13] And so harsh was the dealing in the matter that not only were marriages forbidden for the future, but also existing marriages were torn asunder, contrary to all laws, divine and human, contrary even to the Canons themselves, made not only by the Popes, but by most celebrated Synods. [Moreover, many God-fearing and intelligent people in high station are known frequently to have expressed misgivings that such enforced celibacy and depriving men of marriage (which God Himself has instituted and left free to men) has never produced any good results, but has brought on many great and evil vices and much iniquity.]
14] Seeing also that, as the world is aging, man's nature is gradually growing weaker, it is well to guard that no more vices steal into Germany.
15] Furthermore, God ordained marriage to be a help against human infirmity. 16] The Canons themselves say that the old rigor ought now and then, in the latter times, to be relaxed because of the weakness of men; which it is to be wished were done also in this matter. 17] And it is to be expected that the churches shall at some time lack pastors if marriage is any longer forbidden.
18] But while the commandment of God is in force, while the custom of the Church is well known, while impure celibacy causes many scandals, adulteries, and other crimes deserving the punishments of just magistrates, yet it is a marvelous thing that in nothing is more cruelty exercised than against 19] the marriage of priests. God has given commandment to honor marriage. By the laws of all 20] well-ordered commonwealths, even among the heathen, marriage is most highly honored. 21] But now men, and that, priests, are cruelly put to death, contrary to the intent of the Canons, for no other cause than 22] marriage. Paul, in 1 Tim. 4, 3, calls that a doctrine of devils which forbids marriage. 23] This may now be readily understood when the law against marriage is maintained by such penalties.
24] But as no law of man can annul the commandment of God, so neither can it be done by any vow. 25] Accordingly, Cyprian also advises that women who do not keep the chastity they have promised should marry. His words are these (Book I, Epistle XI): But if they be unwilling or unable to persevere, it is better for them to marry than to fall into the fire by their lusts; they should certainly give no offense to their brethren and sisters.
26] And even the Canons show some leniency toward those who have taken vows before the proper age, as heretofore has generally been the case.
This happens to be an unusually long article in the confessions, and the second of the articles on "abuses which have been corrected". The article hits close to home, because it is something that makes my life very different from the average Catholic priest- I am a married priest.
Two months back or so my wife and I went to view "Luther: The Movie." There's plenty to complain about in the movie. A recent review in First Things does an excellent job of summarizing the complaints, both theological and historical. Nevertheless, a surprising result of my viewing the movie was the realization that the particular act of Luther, getting married, was rebellious in the extreme. Although the movie way over-dramatizes and romanticizes the issue, I believe the act as an heroic act deserves our attention. The average Christian of the time expected their priests to be celibate. It was canon law, common practice, and therefore accepted and expected custom. So for a priest to get married, and remain a priest, must have been scandalous. To lift up the act as virtuous, as honoring the vocations and Christian estates, probably seemed even more troubling. So for Luther and other evangelical pastors to take this step seems brave in the extreme. I can't help but wonder what it would have been like to go through the decision-making process. Did the knees of the priests and nuns tremble not out of nerves at what they were entering into, but because of what they were violating?
And then I wondered, what must it be like to discover some thing in one's own church tradition that is deeply engrained, bears the weight of tradition and the authority of the church leaders, but that you believe to be wrong? And then what must it be like to risk excommunication and condemnation in actually doing what was proscribed? Although we might lift up communion and right reception of the elements as more central to the life of faith because it is a more central sacrament to the church's life, marriage hits us more closely at the level of daily existence. What must it be like to get married "as an act of faith", as an act even of protest of abuses in the church?
I was surprised in re-reading this article to note that it focuses much more on what marriage does for a priest by way of restraining or curtailing sin than it does on Luther's emphasis on marriage as a proper and honorable vocation qua vocation. The article also briefly discusses the marriage of priests in the context of texts referring to the marriage of bishops. It briefly lifts up issues of historical precedence in the early church, as the AC often does. I am surprised it makes no mention of the eastern church practice of priests marrying.
Nevertheless, in the end the argument is straightforward and easily summarized. Priests should marry to restrain sin, lest they engage in sexual activity outside the bounds of Christian marriage. It's really that simple.
When we lived in Slovakia, we attended some Catholic churches that still communed in only one kind. But the overwhelming practice, I am led to understand, and the practice of the Catholic church post-Vatican II, is for communion in both kinds. So the abuse to be corrected in article XXII has been corrected, or is at least on its way towards correction. I wonder if there will be any rapprochement, or agreement, on this XXIII article between Lutherans and Catholics.