This portrait [woodcut] of Luther by Hans Baldung Grien appeared on the title page of
the book Acta et res gestae D Martini Lutheri published in Strasbourg in 1521.
From: LUTHER, HARTMANN GRISAR, SJ.
PROFESSOR AT THE UNIVERSITY OF INNSBRUCK
AUTHORISED TRANSLATION FROM THE GERMAN BY E. M. LAMOND
EDITED BY LUIGI CAPPADELTA
VOLUME III [of six]
LONDON: KEGAN PAUL, TRENCH, TRUBNER & CO., LTD.
BROADWAY HOUSE, 68-74 CARTER LANE, E.G.
[available online [txt]; see also the PDF version] The excerpt below is unedited; from pages 259-263. Luther's own words will be in blue, footnotes in green and different font, and page numbers in red:
* * * * *PATRIARCHAL MORALITY 259
Polygamy. Sanctity of marriage in the Christian mind involves monogamy. The very word polygamy implies a reproach. Luther s own feelings at the commencement revolted against the conclusions which, as early as 1520, he had felt tempted to draw from the Bible against monogamy, for instance, from the example of the Old Testament Patriarchs, such as Abraham, whom Luther speaks of as "a true, indeed a perfect Christian." 1 It was not long, however, before he began to incline to the view that the example of Abraham and the Patriarchs did, as a matter of fact, make polygamy permissible to Christians. In September, 1523, in his exposition on Genesis xvi., he said without the slightest hesitation : " We must take his life [Abraham s] as an example to be followed, provided it be carried out in the like faith " ; of course, it was possible to object, that this permission of having several wives had been abrogated by the Gospel ; but circumcision and the sacrifice of the Paschal Lamb had also been abrogated, and yet they " are not sins, but quite optional, i.e. neither sinful nor praiseworthy. . . . The same must hold good of other examples of the Patriarchs, namely, if they had many wives, viz. that this also is optional." 5 In 1523 he advanced the following : "A man is not absolutely forbidden to have more than one wife ; I could not prevent it, but certainly I should not counsel it." He continues in this passage : " Yet I would not raise the question but only say, that, should it come before the sheriff, it would be right to answer that we do not reject the example of the Patriarchs, as though they were not right in doing what they did, as the Manicheans say." 3 The sermons where these words occur were published at Wittenberg in 1527 and at once scattered broadcast in several editions. We shall have to tell later how the Land grave Philip of Hesse expressly cited on his own behalf the passage we have quoted. Meanwhile, however, i.e. previous to the printing of his sermons on Genesis, Luther had declared, in a memorandum 1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 6, p. 559 ; " Op. lat. var.," 6, p. 100, " De captivitate babylonica," 1520, " an liceat, non audeo definire" 2 Ibid., 24, p. 304 ; Erl. ed., 33, p. 323. Sermons on Genesis. 3 Ibid., p. 305 = 324 ; on the date see Weim. ed., 14, p. 250 ff. 260 of January 27, 1524, addressed to Briick, the electoral Chancellor, regarding a case in point, viz. that of an Orla- munde man who wished to have two wives, that he was " unable to forbid it " ; it " was not contrary to Holy Scripture " ; yet, on account of the scandal and for the sake of decorum, which at times demanded the omission even of what was lawful, he was anxious not to be the first to introduce amongst Christians " such an example, which, was not at all becoming " ; should, however, the man, with the assistance of spiritual advisers, be able to form a " firm conscience by means of the Word," then the " matter might well be left to take its course." 1 This memorandum, too, also came to the knowledge of Landgrave Philip of Hesse. 2 Subsequently Luther remained faithful to the standpoint that polygamy was not forbidden but optional ; this is proved by his Latin Theses of 1528, 3 by his letter, on September 3, 1531, 4 addressed to Robert Barnes for Henry VIII. and in particular by his famous declaration of 1539 to Philip of Hesse, sanctioning his bigamy. His defenders have taken an unfinished treatise which he commenced in the spring of 1542 5 as indicating, if not a retractation, at least a certain hesitation on his part ; yet even here he shows no sign of embracing the opposite view ; in principle he held fast to polygamy and merely restricts it to the domain of conscience. The explanation of the writing must be sought for in the difficulties arising out of the bigamy of Landgrave Philip. Owing to Philip s representations Luther left the treatise unfinished, but on this occasion he expressly admitted to the Prince, that there were " four good reasons " to justify his bigamy. 6 Needless to say, views such as these brought Luther into conflict with the whole of the past. Augustine, like the other Fathers, had declared that polygamy was " expressly forbidden " in the New Testa- 1 " Brief wechsel," 4, p. 283 : " Viro qui secundam uxorem consilio Carlstadii petit. 2 The Elector forwarded it together with a letter to Philip of Hesse on July 3, 1540. See Enders, " Briefwechsel," ibid., No. 5. 3 " Werke," Weim. ed., 26, p. 523 ; " Opp. lat. var.," 4, p. 368, in the " Propositiones de digamia episcoporum" 4 " Briefwechsel," 9, p. 92 ff. 5 " Werke," Erl. ed., 65, p. 206 ff. 6 Thus Landgrave Philip, on May 16, 1542, to his theologian Bucer (Lenz, " Philipps Briefwechsel," 2, p. 82). THE SCHOOLMEN ON POLYGAMY 261 ment as a " crime " (" crimen "J. 1 Peter Lombard, Thomas Aquinas and Bonaventure speak in similar terms in the name of the scholasticism of the Middle Ages. Peter Paludanus, the so-called " Doctor egregius " (f 1342), repeated in his work on the Sentences, that : " Under the Gospel-dispensation it never had been and never would be permitted." 2 It is, however, objected that Cardinal Cajetan, the famous theologian and a contemporary of Luther, had described polygamy as allowable in principle, and that Luther merely followed in his footsteps. But Cajetan does not deny that the prohibition pronounced by the Church stands, he merely deals in scholastic fashion with the questions whether polygamy is a contravention of the natural law, and whether it is expressly interdicted in Holy Scripture. True enough, however, he answers both questions in the negative. 3 In the first everything of course depends on the view taken with regard to the patriarchs and the Old Testament exceptions ; the grounds for these exceptions (for such they undoubtedly were) have been variously stated by theologians. In the second, i.e. in the matter of Holy Scripture, Cajetan erred. His views on this subject have never been copied and, indeed, a protest was at once raised by Catharinus, who appealed to the whole body of theologians as teaching that, particularly since the preaching of the Gospel, there was no doubt as to the biblical prohibition. 4 Thus, in spite of what some Protestants have said, it was not by keeping too close to the mediaeval doctrine of matri- mony, that Luther reached his theory of polygamy. It is more likely that he arrived at it owing to his own 1 " De bono coniugali," c. 15 ; " P.L.," 40, col. 385 : " nunc certe non licet: " Contra Faustum," 1. 22, c. 47 ; " P.L.," 42, col. 428 : " nunc crimen est." 2 " In IV. Sent.," Dist. 33, q. 1, a. 1. 3 " Commentarii in Pentateuchum," Romae, 1531, f. 38 ; " Com- mentarii in Evangelia," Venet., 1530, f. 77; " Epistolae s. Pauli enarr.," etc., Venet. 1531, f. 142. 4 Ambr. Catharinus, " Annotationes in Comment. Cajetani," Lugd., 1542, p. 469, " In hoc prorsus omnes theologi, neminem cxcipio, con- aenaerunl." Cp. Paulus, " Luther und die Polygamie " (" Lit. Beilage der Koln. Volksztng.," 1903, No. 18), and in " Cajetan und Luther iiber Polygamie" (Hist.-pol. Blatter, 135, 1905, p. 81 ff.). On the opinions in vogue regarding the Old Testament exceptions, see Hurter, " Theol. spec.," 11 P. ii., 1903, p. 567, n. 605. Cp. Rockwell, "Die Doppelehe Philipps von Hessen," p. 236 ff. 262 arbitrary and materialistic ideas on marriage. It was certainly not the Catholic Church which showed him the way ; as she had safeguarded the sanctity of marriage, so also she protected its monogamous character and its in- dissolubility. In Luther s own day the Papacy proved by its final pronouncement against the adultery of Henry VIII. of England, that she preferred to lose that country to the Church rather than sanction the dissolving of a rightful marriage (vol. iv., xxi. 1). Toleration for Concubinage? Matrimony no Sacrament. In exceptional cases Luther permitted those bound to clerical celibacy, on account of "the great distress of conscience," to contract " secret marriages " ; he even expressly recommended them to do so. 1 These unions, according to both Canon and Civil law, amounted to mere concubinage. Luther admits that he had advised " certain parish priests, living under the jurisdiction of Duke George or the bishops," to " marry their cook secretly." 2 At the same time, in this same letter written in 1540, he explains that he is not prepared to " defend all he had said or done years ago, particularly at the commencement." Everything, however, remained in print and was made use of not only by those to whom it was actually addressed, but by many others also ; for instance, his outrageous letter to the Knights of the Teutonic Order who were bound by vow to the celibate state. Any of them who had a secret, illicit connection, and " whoever found it impossible to live chastely," he there says, " was not to despair in his weak- ness and sin, nor wait for any Conciliar permission, for I would rather overlook it, and commit to the mercy of God the man who all his life has kept a pair of prostitutes, than the man who takes a wife in compliance with the decrees of such Councils." " How much less a sinner do you think him to be, and nearer to the grace of God, who keeps a prostitute, than the man who takes a wife in that way ? " 3 Of the Prince-Abbots, who, on account of the position they occupied in the Empire, were unable to marry so long as 1 Letter to the Elector of Saxony, 1540, reprinted by Seidemann in Lauterbach, " Tagebuch," p. 198. 2 Ibid. 3 Letter of December, 1523, " Werke," Weim. ed., 12, p. 237 f. ; Erl. ed., 29, p. 16 (" Brief wechsel," 4, p. 266). For the letters, to the Teutonic Order and concerning the Abbots, cp. our vol. ii., p. 120. MARRIAGE NO SACRAMENT 263 they remained in the monastery, he likewise wrote: "I would prefer to advise such a one to take a wife secretly and to continue as stated above [i.e. remain in office], seeing that among the Papists it is neither shameful nor wrong to keep women, until God the Lord shall send other wise as He will shortly do, for it is impossible for things to remain much longer as they are. In this wise the Abbe would be safe and provided for." ]