Wednesday, March 12, 2014

James Swan: The Reformers Affirmed Christian Marriage While Questioning Roman Canon Law and its Aberrations

Calvin affirms: marriage was instituted by God, and that it is a good and holy ordinance of God. But simply because it holds this pedigree doesn't mean it's a sacrament… “At length, we must extricate ourselves from their mire…”

This was the gist of the Reformers’ teachings on Marriage – and their message was that the Roman making of marriage into a sacrament, and dependent upon Roman Canon Law, introduced all manners of aberrations that convoluted the true meaning of marriage.

The Reformers on Christian Marriage, Part 1

The Reformers on Christian Marriage, Part 2

A Roman Apologist has published an article, “500 Years of Protestantism: Luther and Calvin Destroy Marriage”. Swan says “The basic thrust of this recent offering is that the Reformers denied that marriage is a sacrament and hence took God out of marriage, placing it in the hands of the state government. The contemporary mess of marriage can entirely be laid at the feet of the Reformers.”

In his usual exacting style, in Part 1, Swan first places into context the various patristic quotations that this Roman polemicist uses and concludes:

Before any sort of historical evaluation and review of Luther / Calvin quotes, this sort of charge demonstrates a bit of hypocrisy. As far as I understand marriage in North America (where this particular Roman polemicist lives), Roman Catholics submit to the state regulation of marriage. That is, they have marriage licences, and I'm going to speculate many of them will file joint tax returns in a few weeks with their legal spouses. If defenders of Romanism like this are really so outraged by the Reformers allegedly taking God out of marriage, why are they not protesting by burning their marriage licences?

In Part 2, he points out further errors that the Roman polemicist passes along in his portrayal of Luther and Calvin, re-quotes the Reformers in their proper context, and then he summarizes the Reformers on the role the Medieval Roman Church on its own doctrine of marriage:

What the Reformers rebelled against was the complete control the Roman church had on marriage via canon law and the unbiblical notion of making marriage a means of infused grace. Ultimately, the issue of marriage was a sola scriptura issue. Rome claimed infallible authority over the estate of marriage. The Reformers responded by pointing out the Scriptures do not show that marriage is a sacrament, and the application of canon law demonstrates the severe fallibility of Roman authority.

Whatever mess marriage is in today, it would be an error to think that when Rome had complete control via canon law it was somehow more functional, and that marriage was in some sort of "golden age" previous to the 16th Century. The simple fact is that marriage previous to the Reformation had a whole host of problems.

Then, citing John White on the paradoxes of Roman marriage during the middle ages, he concludes:

Luther and other German Protestant reformers attributed much of the decay of marriage not only to the negligence and arbitrariness of authority and the moral laxness of society but also to the canon laws of marriage and the Roman Catholic theological concepts of marriage underlying these laws. For the reformers the canon law of marriage yielded paradoxical results. It discouraged and prevented mature persons from marrying by its celebration of celibacy, its proscriptions against the breach of vows to celibacy, its permission to breach oaths of betrothal, and its numerous impediments. Yet it encouraged marriages between the immature by declaring valid secret unions consummated without parental permission as well as oaths of betrothal followed by sexual intercourse. It highlighted the sanctity and solemnity of marriage by deeming it a sacrament. Yet it permitted a couple to enter this holy union without clerical or parental witness, instruction, or participation. Celibate and impeded persons were thus driven by their sinful passion to incontinence and all manner of sexual deviance. Married couples, not taught the Scriptural norms for marriage, adopted numerous immoral practices. Such paradoxical results, the reformers averred, were rooted in tensions within the Roman Catholic theology of marriage. Although Roman Catholic theologians emphasized the sanctity and sanctifying purpose of the marriage sacrament, they nevertheless subordinated it to celibacy and monasticism. Although they taught that marriage is a duty mandated for all persons by divine natural law, they excused many from this duty through the restrictions of canon law. Both the Roman Catholic theology and the canon law of marriage thus met with sharp criticism on the part of the reformers.

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