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).

 

Courtship, Engagement, and Marriage in Calvin’s Geneva

Kingdon and WitteI am going to repost, with some revisions, my blog series on Kingdon and Witte’s excellent work: Sex, Marriage, and Family in John Calvin’s Geneva: Vol 1.  There were supposed to be two more volumes, but Robert Kingdon died. I am not sure the status of the next two books. We cannot nor should we adopt all the specifics of pastoral care in Geneva. However, in our age where moral formation through pastoral care is an afterthought, books like these are of great value. The sheep wander off cliffs regularly while pastors waste their time or better yet push them. This books gives a way godly shepherds cared for their sheep in the a specific time and place. And while we cannot adopt all the particulars, the principles do not change.  And the subject of marriage, children, and sex is never boring and always relevant. 

What pops in your mind when you think of John Calvin? Austere reformer? Man who had Servetus killed? A man who taught that evil, black doctrine of predestination? Or do you think of a man who protected women and children and sought to reform marriage? This latter picture is the one painted by this book. I think most people will find me weird for loving this book so much. But I did. As a pastor I am always looking for different perspectives on pastoral care. This book is a great picture of pastoral theology and care in action during a specific time period. This book is supposed to be the first of three volumes on Sex, Marriage, and Family in John Calvin’s Geneva. I sincerely hope they get the other two written. This one focused on pastoral counsel up to and including the wedding. The next volume will focus on marriage and children. The final volume will focus on divorce, desertion, abuse, and widows/widowers.

Continue reading

Dr. Packer on Inerrancy

JIPACKEROne of the great benefits of reading older churchmen is the experiential knowledge they can bring to bear on various topics. Dr. J.I. Packer has been around a long time and has seen a lot. In his book Truth and Power: The Place of Scripture in the Christian Life, he writes about some of the changes he has seen in his lifetime toward God’s Word. In the midst of this he gives an apologetic for why he uses the word “inerrancy.” I have friends who believe the term “infallibility” is enough. I sympathize with this position. It should be. But unfortunately men are twisted and therefore precision is often necessary.  He wrote this in 1996.

Once I too avoided the word inerrancy as much as I could, partly because I no wish myself to endorse the tendencies mentioned, and partly because the word has a negative form and I like to sound positive. But I find that nowadays I need the word. Verbal currency, as we know, can be devalued. Any word may have some of its meaning rubbed off, and this has happened to all my preferred terms for stating my belief about the Bible. I hear folk declare Scripture inspired and in the next breath say that it misleads from time to time. I hear them call it infallible and authoritative, and find they mean only that its impact on us and the commitment to which it leads us will keep us in God’s grace, not that it is all true.

This is not enough for me. I want to safeguard the historic evangelical meaning  of these three words and to make clear my intention, as a disciple of Jesus Christ, to receive as from the Father and the Son all that Scripture when properly interpreted, that is, understood from within, in terms of its own frame of reference, proves to be affirming. So assert inerrancy after all. I think this is a clarifying thing to do, since it shows what I mean when I call Scripture inspired, infallible, and authoritative. In an era of linguistic devaluation and double-talk we owe this kind of honesty to each other.

Berkhof on Knowing God Through Scripture

Here is a short quote from Berkhof’s Systematic Theology on how we learn about God.

The only proper way to obtain perfectly reliable knowledge of the divine attributes is by the study of God’s self-revelation in Scripture. It is true that we can acquire some knowledge of the greatness and power, the wisdom and goodness of God through the study of nature, but for an adequate conception of even these attributes it will be necessary to turn to the Word of God. In the theology of revelation we seek to learn from the Word of God which are the attributes of the Divine Being. Man does not elicit knowledge from God as he does from other objects of study, but God conveys knowledge of Himself to man, a knowledge which man can only accept and appropriate. For the appropriation and understanding of this revealed knowledge it is, of course, of the greatest importance that man is created in the image of God, and therefore finds helpful analogies in his own life. In distinction from the a priori method of the Scholastics, who deduced the attributes from the idea of a perfect Being, this method may be called a posteriori, since it takes its starting point, not in an abstract perfect Being, but in the fulness of the divine self-revelation, and in the light of this seeks to know the Divine Being.

 

Where are the Brakes for Old Earth Christians?

I am a young earth, six day, 24 hour day man. I believe this is consistent with the Biblical text and think science backs this up. I have friends who are old earth guys. One of the key questions I think OEC men need to answer is where are the brakes? What is not allowed in their system? What I have found with many OEC is there are no brakes. Anything is allowed as long as God shows up somewhere. Full scale human evolution with a view of God that verges on Deism. Death of all kinds before Adam’s sin. A fall that drifts towards the mythical. An Adam and Eve that doesn’t really exist. I know not all OEC men hold these positions. That is not my point. My question is if you are a Christian who is old earth what are the lines that cannot be crossed? What interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis would they condemn?

I do not believe every OECer is a heretic or is going down the slippery slope to apostasy, though of course some are. But if a system allows for any and all approaches to Genesis 1-3 then it seems to me it is a system with problems. So what is and what is not allowed by old earth Christians? When will an OEC man say to another OEC man you are out of line? Is the only criteria that God got the ball rolling? As long as God hit the first domino everything else is allowed? Is there any teaching on Genesis 1-3 that they would label a “false teaching and dangerous?” In my experience, while there is disagreement among OEC men on the specifics of Genesis 1-3, there are few brakes if any in the OEC system. This allows for false teaching to take up residence among OECers that has little do with the age of the earth.