aA
aA
aA
aA
aA
aA
History of the Christian Church, Volume VII. Modern Christianity. The German Reformation.
« Prev Reflections on Clerical Family Life Next »

§ 79. Reflections on Clerical Family Life.


The Reformers present to us the first noted examples of clerical family life in the Christian Church. This is a new and important chapter in the history of civilization.

They restored a natural right founded in the ordinance of God. The priests and high priests of the Jewish theocracy down to the father of John the Baptist, as well as the patriarchs, Moses, and some of the prophets, lived in wedlock. The prince of the apostles, whom Roman Catholics regard as the first pope, was a married man, and carried his wife with him on his missionary journeys.603603    In spite of this fact attested by St. Paul, 1 Cor. 9:5, in the year 57, Dr. Spalding (in his Hist. of the Prot. Reformation, I. 177, 8th ed. 1875) asserts that Peter’s wife was "probably dead before he became an apostle." Paul claimed the same right as "other apostles, and the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas," though he renounced it for personal reasons. From the pastoral Epistles we may infer that marriage was the rule among the bishops and deacons of the apostolic age. It is therefore plainly a usurpation to deprive the ministers of the gospel of this right of nature and nature’s God.

But from the second century the opinion came to prevail, and still prevails in the papal communion, which is ruled by an unmarried priest, that marriage is inconsistent with the sacerdotal office, and should be forbidden after ordination. This view was based on the distinction between a lower and higher morality with corresponding merit and reward, the one for the laity or the common people; the other for priests and monks, who form a spiritual nobility. All the church fathers, Greek and Latin, even those who were themselves married (as Tertullian, Gregory of Nyssa, Synesius), are unanimous in praising celibacy above marriage; and the greatest of them are loudest in this praise, especially St. Jerome. And yet the mothers of Gregory Nazianzen, Chrysostom, and Augustin, are the brightest examples of Christian women in the ancient Church. Nonna, Anthusa, and Monica were more useful in giving birth to these luminaries of the Church than any nuns.

This ascetic feature marks a decided difference between the Fathers and the Reformers, as it does between the Catholic and Evangelical churches. Anglicanism, with all its respect for the Fathers, differs as widely from them in this respect as any other Protestant communion.

The Oriental churches, including that of Russia, stopped half way in this ascetic restriction of a divine right. They approve and even enjoin marriage upon the lower clergy (before ordination), but forbid it to bishops, and regard the directions of Paul, 1 Tim. 3:2, 12 (compare 5:9), as a concession to the weakness of the flesh, and as a prohibition of second marriage. The Latin Church, understanding the advice of Paul, 1 Cor. 7:7, 32, 33, as, a counsel of perfection, "indicating a better way, imposed, as early as the fourth century, total abstinence from marriage upon all orders of the clergy, and brands the marriage of a priest as sinful concubinage. Pope Siricius, a.d. 385, issued the first prohibition of sacerdotal marriage. His successors followed, but it was not till Gregory VII. that the prohibition was rigidly enforced. It was done in the interest of hierarchical power, and at an enormous sacrifice of clerical purity. The Roman Catholic system makes marriage one of the seven sacraments; but by elevating celibacy above it, and by declaring it to be beneath the dignity of a priest of God, it degrades marriage as if it involved an element of impurity. According to the Gnostic and Manichaean theory, condemned by Paul as a doctrine of demons, 1 Tim. 4:1–3, marriage is a contact with sinful matter, and forbidden altogether.

In view of this state of public opinion and the long tradition of Latin Christendom, we need not wonder that the marriage of the Reformers created the greatest sensation, and gave rise to the slander that sensual passion was one of the strongest motives of their rebellion against popery. Erasmus struck the keynote to this perversion of history, although he knew well enough that Luther and Oecolampadius were Protestants several years before they thought of marrying. Clerical marriage was a result, not a cause, of the Reformation, as clerical celibacy was neither the first nor the chief objection to the papal system.604604    Archbishop Spalding, in his History of the Reformation (I. 176), following the example of unscrupulous Romish controversialists, thus echoes the joke of Erasmus: "Matrimony was, in almost all cases, the dénouement of the drama which signalized the zeal for reformation." He refers for proof to Moore’s Travels of an Irish Gentleman in Search of a Religion, ch. XLVI., "where the great Irish poet enters into the subject at length, giving his authorities as he proceeds, and playing off his caustic wit on the hymeneal propensities of the Reformers." In looking at that chapter (for the first time), I find that it abounds in misstatements and abuse of the Reformers, whom the Irish poet calls not only "fanatics" and "bigots," but "the coarsest hypocrites" and "slaves of the most vulgar superstition " (p. 246, Philad. ed. 1833). The same poet gives us the startling piece of information (p. 248) that the Protestants were subdivided on the eucharistic question alone into countless factions such as "Panarii, Accidentarii, Corporarii, Arrabonarii, Tropistae, Metamorphistae, Iscariotistae, Schwenkenfeldians, etc., etc., etc.," and that "an author of Bellarmine’s time counted no less than two hundred different opinions on the words, ’This Is my body’ " ! Moore was evidently better at home in the history of Lord Byron than in the history of the church.

On a superficial view one might wish that the Reformers had remained true to their solemn promise, like the Jansenist bishops in the seventeenth century, and the clerical leaders of the Old Catholic secession in the nineteenth.605605    The Old Catholic Bishop Reinkens and Bishop Herzog, Drs. Döllinger, Friederich, Reusch, and Langen, remained single after their excommunication in 1870. But Père Loyson-Hyacinthe, who occupies a similar position of Tridentine or rather Gallican Romanism versus Vatican Romanism, followed the example of the Reformers, and married an American widow, whom he had converted to the Roman Church by his eloquent sermons in Notre Dame, before she converted him to herself. They were joined together by Dean Stanley in Westminster Abbey. It is reported that Pope Pius IX., on being informed of the fact, and asked to excommunicate the ex-monk, wittily replied, "It is not necessary, since he has taken the punishment into his own arms." A Pope’s view of the blessed estate of matrimony! But it was their mission to introduce by example as well as by precept, a new type of Christian morality, to restore and re-create clerical family life, and to secure the purity, peace, and happiness of innumerable homes.

Far be it from us to depreciate the value of voluntary celibacy which is inspired by the love of God. The mysterious word of our Lord, Matt. 19:12, and the advice and example of Paul, 1 Cor. 7:7, 40, forbid it. We cheerfully admire the self-denial and devotion of martyrs, priests, missionaries, monks, nuns, and sisters of charity, who sacrificed all for Christ and their fellow-men. Protestantism, too, has produced not a few noble men and women who, without vows and without seeking or claiming extra merit, renounced the right of marriage from the purest motives.606606    We may mention the saintly Archbishop Leighton, Dr. Samuel Hopkins, the missionary Zeisberger, Dr. William Augustus Mühlenberg (the founder of St. Luke’s Hospital In New York and of St. Johnland, and the singer of "I would not live alway"), the model pastor Ludwig Harms of Hermannsburg, the historian Neander and his sister, and the nurses or deaconesses of Kaiserswerth and similar institutions. But according to God’s ordinance dating from the state of innocency, and sanctioned by Christ at the wedding feast at Cana, marriage is the rule for all classes of men, ministers as well as laymen. For ministers are men, and do not cease to be men by becoming ministers.

The Reformation has changed the moral ideal, and elevated domestic and social life. The mediaeval ideal of piety is the flight from the evil world: the modern ideal is the transformation of the world. The model saint of the Roman Church is the monk separated from the enjoyments and duties of society, and anticipating the angelic life in heaven where men neither marry nor are given in marriage: the model saint of the Evangelical Church is the free Christian and useful citizen, who shows his piety in the performance of social and domestic duties, and aims at the sanctification of the ordinances of nature. The former tries to conquer the world by running away from its temptations—though after all he cannot escape the flesh, the world, and the Devil in his own heart: the latter tries to conquer the world by converting it. The one abstains from the wedding feast: the other attends it, and changes the water into wine. The one flees from woman as a tempter: the other takes her to his heart, and reflects in the marriage relation the holy union of Christ with his Church. The one aims to secure, chastity by abstinence: the other proves it within the family. The one renounces all earthly possessions: the other uses them for the good of his fellow-men. The one looks for happiness in heaven: the other is happy already on earth by making others happy. The daily duties and trials of domestic and social life are a better school of moral discipline than monkish celibacy and poverty. Female virtues and graces are necessary to supplement and round out the character of man. Exceptions there are, but they prove the rule.

It may be expected that in the fervor and hurry of the first attempts in the transition from slavery to freedom, some indiscretions were committed; but they are as nothing compared with the secret chronique scandaleuse of enforced celibacy. It was reserved for later times to cultivate a more refined style of family life; but the Reformers burst the chains of papal tyranny, and furnished the practical proof that it is possible to harmonize the highest and holiest calling with the duties of husband and father. Though falling short of modern Protestant ideas of the dignity and rights of woman, they made her the rightful companion of the Christian pastor; and among those companions may be found many of the purest, most refined, and most useful women on earth. The social standing of woman is a true test of Christian civilization.

Melanchthon was the first among the Reformers who entered the state of matrimony; but being a layman, he violated no priestly or monastic vow. He married, at the urgent request of his friends, Katharina Krapp, the daughter of the burgomaster of Wittenberg, in November, 1520, and lived with his plain, pious, faithful, and benevolent wife, till her death in 1557. He was seen at times rocking the cradle while reading a book.607607    C. Schmidt, Philipp Melanchthon, pp. 47 sqq., 617, 710 sqq.

Calvin was likewise free from the obligation of vows, but the severest and most abstemious among the Reformers. He married Idelette de Buren, the widow of an Anabaptist minister of Holland, whom he had converted to the Paedobaptist faith; he lived with her for nearly nine years, had three children who died in infancy, and remained a widower after her death. The only kind of female beauty which impressed him was, as he said, gentleness, purity, modesty, patience, and devotion to the wants of her husband; and these qualities he esteemed in his wife.608608    Stähelin, Johannes Calvin, vol. I. 272 sqq.

Zwingli unfortunately broke his vow at Einsiedeln, while still a priest, and in receipt of a pension from the Pope. He afterwards married a worthy patrician widow with three children, Anna Reinhard von Knonau, who bore him two sons and two daughters, and lived to lament his tragic death on the field of battle, finding, like him, her only comfort in the Lord Jesus and the word of God.609609    R. Christoffel, Huldreich Zwingli, pp. 336-339, 413. The slanderous exaggerations of Janssen have been refuted by Ebrard, Usteri, and Schweizer.

Ludwig Cellarius (Keller), Oecolampadius (the Reformer of Basel), Wolfgang Capito (the Reformer of Strassburg), and his more distinguished friend Martin Bucer (a widower who was always ready for union) were successively married to Wilibrandis Rosenblatt, the daughter of a Knight and colonel aid-de-camp of the Emperor Maximilian I. She accompanied Bucer to Cambridge in England, and after his death returned to Basel, the survivor of four husbands! She died Nov. 1, 1564.610610    Hagenbach (Oekolampad, p. 108, note) gives this date, and refers to the Reformations-Almanach, 1821. She must have had a remarkable attraction for Reformers. Oecolampadius thought her almost too young for his age of forty-five, but found her a "good Christian "and "free from youthful frivolity." She bore him three children,—Eusebius, Alitheia, and Irene.611611    Herzog, Leben Joh. Oekolampadius, vol. II. 70 sqq.; Hagenbach, Joh. Oekolampad und Oswald Myconius, p. 107. Hagenbach says that the names of his children were the pillars of his home: godliness, truth, and peace. It was on the occasion of his marriage that Erasmus wrote to a friend (March 21, 1528): "Oecolampadius has lately married. His bride is not a bad-looking girl" [she was a widow]. "I suppose he wants to mortify his flesh. Some speak of the Lutheran cause as a tragedy, but to me it appears rather as a comedy, for it always ends in a wedding."612612    In a letter to Adrianus Arivulus: "Nuper Oecolampadius duxit uxorem, puellam non inelegantem. Vult opinor affligere carnem. Quidam appellant Lutheranam tragaediam, mihi videtur esse comaedia. Semper enim in nuptias exeunt tumultus." He afterwards apologized to Oecolampadius, and disclaimed any intention to satirize him. See his letter to Oecolampadius in Drummond’s Erasmus, II. 319. Archbishop Spalding (l.c. I. 176) thus repeats the joke: "The gospel light seems to have first beamed upon Oecolampadius from the eye of a beautiful young lady, whom, in violation of his solemn vows plighted to Heaven, he espoused, probably, as Erasmus wittily remarked, to mortify himself." He says nothing of the apology of Erasmus to his friend and associate.

Archbishop Cranmer appears in an unfavorable light. His first wife, "Black Joan," died in childbed before his ordination. Early in 1532, before he was raised to the primacy of Canterbury by Henry VIII. (August, 1532), he married a niece of the Lutheran preacher Osiander of Nürnberg, and concealed the fact, the disclosure of which would have prevented his elevation. The papal bulls of confirmation were dated February and March, 1533, and his consecration took place March 30, 1533. The next year he privately summoned his wife to England; but sent her away in 1539, when he found it necessary to execute the bloody articles of Henry VIII., which included the prohibition of clerical marriage. He lent a willing hand to the divorces and re-marriages of his royal master. And yet with all his weakness of character, and time-serving policy, Cranmer must have been an eminently devout man if he translated and reproduced (as he certainly edited) the Anglican liturgy, which has stood the test of many generations to this day.613613    Strype’s Memorials of Cranmer (Bk. I., chs. 1, 4, 19; Bk. III., chs. 8 and 38); Hook’s Lives of the Archbishops of Canterbury (vols. VI. and VII.); Hardwick’s History of the Reformation, ed. W. Stubbs (1873), p. 179; and art. Cranmer in Leslie Stephen’s "Dictionary of National Biogr.," vol. XIII.

John Knox, the Luther of Scotland, had the courage, as a widower of fifty-eight (March, 1563–64), to marry a Scotch lass of sixteen, Margaret Stuart, of royal name and blood, to the great indignation of Queen Mary, who "stormed wonderfully" at his audacity. The papists got up the story that he gained her affection by sorcery, and aimed to secure for his heirs, with the aid of the Devil, the throne of Scotland. His wife bore him three daughters, and two years after his death (1572) contracted a second marriage with Andrew Ker, a widower.614614    Dr. M’Crie’s Life of John Knox, Philad. ed., pp. 269 and 477 (Append. Note HHH); and Dav. Laing’s Preface to the 6th vol. of his ed. of Works of John Knox, pp. LXV. sqq.

The most unfortunate matrimonial incident in the Reformation is the consent of Luther, Melanchthon, and Bucer to the disgraceful bigamy of Landgrave Philip of Hesse. It is a blot on their character, and admits of no justification. When the secret came out (1540), Melanchthon was so over-whelmed with the reproaches of conscience and a sense of shame that he fell dangerously ill at Weimar, till Luther, who was made of sterner stuff, and found comfort in his doctrine of justification by faith alone, prayed him out of the jaws of death.

In forming a just estimate of this subject, we must not only look backward to the long ages of clerical celibacy with all its dangers and evils, but also forward to the innumerable clerical homes which were made possible by the Reformation. They can bear the test of the closest examination.

Clerical celibacy and monastic vows deprived the church of the services of many men who might have become shining stars. On the other hand, it has been calculated by Justus Möser in 1750, that within two centuries after the Reformation from ten to fifteen millions of human beings in all lands owe their existence to the abolition of clerical celibacy.615615    Ranke states this fact. More important than this numerical increase is the fact that an unusual proportion of eminent scholars and useful men in church and state were descended from clerical families.616616    Among distinguished sons of clergymen may be named Linné, the botanist; Berzelius, the chemist; Pufendorf, the lawyer; Schelling, the philosopher; Buxtorff, the Orientalist; Euler, the mathematician; Agassiz, the scientist; Edward and Ottfried Müller, the classical philologists; John von Müller, Spittler, Heeren, Mommsen, Bancroft, among historians; Henry Clay, Senator Evarts, and two Presidents of the United States, Arthur and Cleveland, among statesmen; Charles Wesley, Gellert, Wieland, Lessing, the brothers Schlegel, Jean Paul, Emanuel Geibel, Emerson (also the female writers Meta Heusser, Elizabeth Prentiss, Mrs. Stowe), among poets; John Wesley, Monod, Krummacher, Spurgeon, H. W. Beecher, R. S. Storrs, among preachers; Jonathan Edwards, Schleiermacher, Hengstenberg, Nitzsch, Julius Müller, Dorner, Dean Stanley, among divines; Swedenborg, the seer; with a large number of prominent and useful clergymen, lawyers, and physicians, in all Protestant countries.

There is a poetic as well as religious charm in the home of a Protestant country pastor who moves among his flock as a father, friend, and comforter, and enforces his teaching of domestic virtues and affections by his example, speaking louder than words. The beauty of this relation has often been the theme of secular poets. Everybody knows Oliver Goldsmith’s "Vicar of Wakefield," which describes with charming simplicity and harmless humor the trials and patience, the domestic, social, and professional virtues of a country pastor, and begins with the characteristic sentence: "I was ever of opinion, that the honest man who married, and brought up a large family, did more service than he who continued single, and only talked of population; from this motive I had scarcely taken orders a year, before I chose my wife, as she did her wedding-gown, not for a fine glossy face, but for such qualities as would wear well." Herder read this English classic four times, and commended it to his bride as one of the best books in any language. Goethe, who himself tasted the charm of a pastoral home in the days of his purest and strongest love to Friederike of Sesenheim, praises the "Vicar of Wakefield," as "one of the best novels, with the additional advantage of being thoroughly moral, yea in a genuine sense Christian," and makes the general assertion: "A Protestant country pastor is perhaps the most beautiful topic for a modern idyl; he appears like Melchizedek, as priest and king in one person. He is usually associated by occupation and outward condition with the most innocent conceivable estate on earth, that of the farmer; he is father, master of his house, and thoroughly identified with his congregation. On this pure, beautiful earthly foundation, rests his higher vocation: to introduce men into life, to care for their spiritual education, to bless, to instruct, to strengthen, to comfort them in all the epochs of life, and, if the comfort for the present is not sufficient, to cheer them with the assured hope of a more happy future."617617    From the tenth book of his Wahrheit und Dichtung. Herder directed his attention to the "Vicar," while they studied at Strassburg, and read it to him aloud in German translation. In the same book Goethe describes in fascinating style his visits to the parsonage of Sesenheim. In his idyl "Hermann und Dorothea," he introduces a clergyman as an ornament and benefactor of the community. It is to the credit of this greatest and most cultured of modern poets, that he, like Shakespeare and Schiller, never disparaged the clerical profession.

In his "Deserted Village," Goldsmith gives another picture of the village preacher as


"A man who was to all the country dear,

And passing rich on forty pounds a year. ...

At church, with meek and unaffected grace,

His looks adorned the venerable place;

Truth from his lips prevailed with double sway,

And fools who came to scoff remained to pray."


From a higher spiritual plane William Wordsworth, the brother of an Anglican clergyman and uncle of two bishops, describes the character of a Protestant pastor in his "Ecclesiastical Sonnets."


"A genial hearth, a hospitable board,

And a refined rusticity, belong

To the neat mansion, where, his flock among,

The learned Pastor dwells, their watchful lord.

Though meek and patient as a sheathèd sword

Though pride’s least lurking thought appear a wrong

To human kind; though peace be on his tongue,

Gentleness in his heart—can earth afford

Such genuine state, pre-eminence so free,

As when, arrayed in Christ’s authority,

He from the pulpit lifts his awful hand;

Conjures, implores, and labors all he can

For re-subjecting to divine command

The stubborn spirit of rebellious man!"


A Romish priest or a Russian pope depends for his influence chiefly upon his official character, though he may be despised for his vices. A Protestant minister stands or falls with his personal merits; and the fact of his high and honorable position and influence in every Protestant country, as a Christian, a gentleman, a husband and father, is the best vindication of the wisdom of the Reformers in abolishing clerical celibacy.



« Prev Reflections on Clerical Family Life Next »

Advertisements


| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |