Calvin’s Attack on Marriage as a Sacrament

Marriage 1Here I continue to look at the changes in marriage during the Reformation. In this post I examine Calvin’s attack on the Roman Catholic view of marriage as a sacrament. The quotes are from Kingdon and Witte. 

This post looked at the basic foundations for marriage law in the church at the time of the Reformation. Some of the ideas taught were retained by the reformers, some were modified, and some were rejected all together. The first chapter focuses on the general changes that the Reformation in Geneva brought about to the law. The core change the reformers made was to reject marriage as a sacrament. Here is a short summary of Calvin’s views on marriage.

For Calvin

Marriage is a “good and holy ordinance of God just like farming, building, cobbling, and barbering.” Marriage serves to procreate children, to remedy continence, and to promote “love between husband and wife.” Its morals and mores are subject to the laws of God that are written on the conscience, rewritten in the pages of Scripture, and distilled in the Ten Commandments. Marriage, however, is not a sacrament of the heavenly kingdom. Though it symbolizes the bond between Christ and his Church, Yahweh and his chosen people, marriage confirms no divine promise and confers no sanctifying grace, as do true sacraments. Though it is a righteous mode of Christian living in the earthly kingdom, it has no bearing on one’s salvation or eternal standing.

For the church to subordinate marriage to celibacy is to commit spiritual “arrogance” of supplanting God’s ordinance with human tradition.

For the church to impose new laws on its own members is to obstruct the simple law and liberty of the Gospel.

One would think that rejecting marriage as a sacrament would lead to a rejection of marriage in general. In other words, it is odd that by saying marriage is a normal part of human and Christian life marriage was elevated. But that is exactly what happened.  The Middle Age theology of marriage had made marriage into something it wasn’t. Whenever man does this he ultimately destroys the thing. In this case marriage was not elevated by making it a sacrament. It was denigrated. By returning to the Scriptures the reformers restored marriage to its proper, glorious, place.

Here are a couple of other lines from Calvin’s attack on marriage as a sacrament from Institutes. 

But having graced marriage with the title of sacrament, to call it afterward uncleanness and pollution and carnal filth-what giddy levity is this? How absurd it is to bar priests from this sacrament! If they say they do not debar them from the sacrament, but from the lust of copulation, they will not give me the slip. For they teach that copulation itself is part of the sacrament…There is also another absurdity in their grand offices.  They affirm that in the sacrament the grace of the Holy Spirit is conferred; they teach copulation to be a sacrament; and they deny that the Holy Spirit is ever present in copulation. Not to have mocked the church simply in one thing, what a long train of errors, lies, frauds and misdeeds have they attached to this one  error…At length, we must extricate ourselves from their mire, in which our discourse has already stuck longer than I should have liked. Still, I believe that I have accomplished something in that I have partly pulled the lion’s skin from these asses. [1536 version of Calvin’s Institutes, p. 236-40]

The attack on marriage as a sacrament was a key battle line in the war over marriage with the Roman Catholics. When this domino fell the reformers felt that a lot of unbiblical and unwise traditions would fall with it. The restoration of marriage should be included with such key doctrines as sola scriptura, justification by faith, and proper worship as central to the Reformation’s long term impact.

Book Review: Jesus and Pacifism

Jesus and Pacifism: An Exegetical and Historical InvestigationJesus and Pacifism: An Exegetical and Historical Investigation by Andrew a Fulford

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I rate a book based on its stated aim. I do not expect a book of 100 pages to accomplish what a book of 500 pages will. If the book is about Calvin, I do not critique it for failing to adequately discuss Luther or the Westminster Assembly. Fulford’s brief, but clear and precise critique of pacifism is excellent and accomplishes perfectly its stated aim. Three things stick out.

First, the initial chapter is a brief lesson on hermeneutics or how to read the Bible charitably. So many authors refuse to look at the Biblical, historical, and social context thus they end up reading Paul, Moses, and Jesus in ways that are directly at odds with how their contemporaries would have read them. Fulford begins by laying out the context in which Jesus spoke. Once this is done pacifistic readings of the Sermon on the Mount become less plausible.

Second, Fulford lists the six key arguments pacifists use and refers to these throughout the book. This is helpful in keeping up with the various arguments as well as his own refutation of them.

Third, he does a good job with his analogies between war, police work, excommunication, and even parenting. In other words, coercive force of various kinds is necessary and commanded by God in a world of sin. Once this premise is granted pacifism becomes untenable.

For a book of so few pages it does the job. The foundations on which pacifism are built slowly erode through careful exegesis and logical thought. I would highly recommend the book for those who are looking for a short introduction to the subject. He said he is writing a full length treatment. I am looking forward to that.

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Sex, Procreation, and Historical Context

BedIn a  previous post I said this:

If you could not physically have sex you could not get married. There was no marriage of the heart only. If you could not have sex the Lord had made you a eunuch (Matthew 19:12). If you went to battle and lost your man parts, you could not marry. But if something happened physically after marriage the vows still held.

Geneva refused marriage to those who could not have sex. One question that arose from this comment was, “Did they do this because they felt marriage was for procreation?” The answer to this is yes, but it helps to put the laws in their historical context. What I am about to say is brief and there are exceptions, but in general it is true. Continue reading

Marriage in Medieval Canon Law

Warrior and his LadyThis is the second in a series of posts on Kingdon and Witte’s excellent book Sex, Marriage, and Family in John Calvin’s Geneva: Vol 1.

In an earlier post I mentioned some general findings from the book Courtship, Engagement and Marriage in Geneva. Now I will work through the different chapters of the book. I find these studies fascinating for two main reasons: it puts the Reformation in context and it forces me to go back to the Scriptures to evaluate why I believe what I believe.

In the first chapter, the authors give an introduction to Roman Catholic theology of marriage and then use Geneva’s Marriage Ordinance of 1546 to show how Geneva changed prevailing theology and practice. This post will briefly look at the Roman Catholic view on marriage prior to the Reformation.

The Marriage Tradition at the Time of the Reformation
Here are some of the key ideas which dominated Roman Catholic marital theology and practice of the time. As we move through the book we will see that some of these ideas carried over into the Reformation, some were modified, and some rejected altogether. Continue reading

The Inferiority of Marriage to Celibacy in Roman Catholic Theology

Kingdon and Witte’s summary of medieval views on marriage and celibacy. This follows a paragraph where they describe how the Roman Catholics viewed marriage as natural and on some level good. All punctuation, except bold, is theirs.

Many medieval writers, however,-following St. Paul’s teaching in I Corinthians 7-subordinated the duty of propagation to that of celibate contemplation, the natural drive for sexual union to the spiritual drive for beatitude. For, as Peter Lombard put it: “The first institution [of marriage in Paradise] was commanded, the second permitted…to the human race for the purpose of preventing fornication. But this permission, because it does not select better things, is a remedy not a reward; if anyone rejects it, he will deserve judgment of death. An act which is allowed by permission, however, is voluntary, not necessary.” After the fall into sin, marriage remained a duty, but only for those tempted by sexual sin. For those not so tempted, marriage was an inferior option. It was better and more virtuous to pursue the spiritual life of celibacy and contemplation than the temporal life of marriage and family. For marriage was regarded as an institution of the natural sphere, not the supernatural sphere. Though ordained by God and good, it served primarily for the protection of the human community, not for the perfection of the individual. Participation in it merely kept a person free from sin and vice. It did not contribute directly to his or her virtue. The celibate, contemplative life, by contrast, was a calling to the supernatural sphere. Participation in it increased a person’s virtue and aided in the pursuit of beatitude. To this pursuit, Thomas Aquinas put it, “marriage is a very great obstacle, ” for it forces the person to dwell on the carnal and natural rather than the spiritual and supernatural aspects of life. (p. 29-30)

Marriage was seen as settling for something less than the best. This view would have been reinforced by the celibate priesthood.

Joel Beeke on Homosexuality & Same Sex Relations

Gay MarriageJoel Beeke’s little book One Man and One Woman: Marriage and Same-Sex Relations is an excellent, short (96 pages) introduction to the classic, Christian perspective on marriage and homosexuality. Here is his final summary statement on sodomy. It does not say all that needs to be said, but it is a solid list of what the Bible teaches on the subject. He addresses homosexual acts, same-sex desires, and transgenderism.

Being committed to the Bible as the Word of Christ, we and our churches must confess that the Holy Scriptures teach the following:

• God created mankind in His image, with two distinct and equally valuable genders, male and female, in accordance with their biological sex (Gen. 1:27). It is against God’s will to identify one’s gender in a manner contrary to biology (Deut. 22:5).

• God instituted marriage as the union of one man and one woman (Gen. 2:24), outside of which all other sexual activity is condemned by God (Ex. 20:14; Eph. 5:5–6).

• God condemns homosexuality as a sin that offends Him. This is evident in the destruction of Sodom (Gen. 19; Jude 7), the Old Testament law of holiness (Lev. 18:22; 20:13), and the New Testament affirmation of that law (1 Tim. 1:9–10).

• God’s condemnation extends to all homosexual desires and acts, by males or females, for it is against God’s created order (Rom. 1:26–27).

• Spontaneous attractions or perceived sexual orientation in any way contrary to God’s Word are sinful, for the inclinations or first motions of original corruption in the soul are sin and evil, even apart from a conscious choice (Gen. 6:5; 8:21; Rom. 7:20–21).

• Unrepentant sinners, including fornicators, adulterers, and those who practice homosexuality, have no place in God’s kingdom (1 Cor. 6:9–10). All who refuse to repent will face the righteous judgment of God on the day of His wrath (Rom. 2:5).

• In His sovereign, electing love, God loves sinners of all kinds, including those who practice homosexuality (Matt. 5:45; John 3:16). He forgives and changes those whom He saves so that they have a new identity in Christ as saints sanctified to God by His amazing grace (1 Cor. 1:2, 30; 6:11).

• True Christians experience an inner conflict between sinful and holy desires (Gal. 5:17), but sin no longer defines who they are, nor does it rule them (Rom. 6:11, 14). Their calling is to hope in Christ and fight against every evil desire (Col. 3:1, 5).

In making this statement, we do not endorse any injustice, violence, or self-righteousness toward people regardless of their identity or manner of life. We highly value all human beings, and are committed to treating them with honor and kindness even if they persist in sin (1 Peter 2:17; 3:9–11). We commit ourselves to welcoming all who are willing to hear the preaching of God’s Word, to embracing as brothers and sisters in Christ all who repent and trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation, and to enfolding in our compassionate spiritual care all who join us in seeking grace and strength to flee from lust, pursue peace and holiness, and live as pilgrims on the way to Christ’s kingdom.

Christ comes with grace and truth for sinners (Luke 5:32; John 1:14). Homosexual desires and acts are not the only sins, nor the worst sin, for it is not the unpardonable sin. Since it can be repented of by grace, it need not inevitably lead to damnation. We confess our own sinfulness and worthiness of hell. Christ died for sinners and rose again—and He is our only hope. Our call to men and women who rejoice in same-sex erotic desires or who participate in same-sex erotic activity is the same as our call to all sinners: repent of your sins and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved (Mark 1:15; Acts 16:31).