Martin Luther, and the Lutheran tradition he established, triggered the Protestant Reformation in 16th century Europe when he challenged many of the teachings of the Catholic church. Among the deep, fundamental shifts in Christian doctrine that Luther advocated was a controversial position on the issue of clerical marriage.
The Lutheran view of marriage, as it relates to clergy, is the same as its position on matrimony for all people: (1) it is necessary for procreation, (2) it is a God-appointed institution for the avoidance of sin, and (3) it is a morally-acceptable means of satisfying sexual urges for married persons.
These views were an affront to the Catholic Church and prevailing sentiment throughout Europe leading up to the Reformation. Keep reading to learn more.
The Lutheran View of Marriage and Clergy
In the time period leading up to the Reformation, the institution of marriage had lost favor with religious leaders and the general populace. Matrimony was seen as the path chosen by those too morally weak to take the high road and abstain from prurient activities. Martin Luther changed all that.
What is the Augsburg Confession?
One of the most important documents in the eyes of Lutherans worldwide is known as the Augsburg Confession, and its presentation before the Diet of Augsburg on June 25, 1530, is widely considered the moment when Lutheranism came into being. (Also see Do Lutherans Believe You Can Lose Your Salvation?)
The author of the document was Luther’s closest confidante, Philipp Melanchthon, and it was signed by a prominent group of German political leaders.
Luther had been excommunicated by the Catholic Church, branded a heretic and an insurrectionist, and had been forced into hiding to escape persecution. He was thus unable to travel to Augsburg with his friends.
The Augsburg Confession was essentially a proclamation by supporters of Luther (from whose name the Lutheran faith gets its name) of the growing community’s theological beliefs in Germany. (Also see Do Lutherans Believe in Angels?)
It consists of 28 articles, each addressing a particular aspect of Lutheran doctrine. On the matter of clerical marriage, Article XXIII (The Marriage of Priests) is absolute on the subject. 
The Augsburg Confession on marriage
Luther and his followers held strong beliefs concerning marriage and clergy. Article XXIII of the Augsburg Confession argued that priests should be permitted to marry and that this stance represented God’s will.
In support of their arguments, the first Lutherans pointed to relevant passages of the Bible, including the teachings of the Apostle Paul and Jesus Christ himself. (Also see Do Lutherans Believe in Predestination?)
Here are some of the highlights of Article XXIII justifying clerical marriage in the 16th century:
- Among the reasons that God created man was for man to procreate and produce future generations; to fulfill this purpose requires that men and women marry and have offspring
- Because “sexual immorality” is a part of human nature and only a select few can suppress its urges, marriage is a necessary convention for people (including priests) to satisfy their sexual needs with their spouses rather than “fall into the fire by their lusts” (Also see Can Lutherans Marry Non-Lutherans?)
- In the Bible, it is written that not all men are fit or capable of leading a “single life” (to be unmarried meant to be single, and thereby, celibate) and that “it is better to marry than to burn”
- With the passage of time, humankind grows spiritually weaker, and prudence dictates that clergy be allowed to marry to “guard that no more vices steal into Germany”
- Far be it for man to question or defy the clear mandate of God establishing that marriage is the only suitable alternative to leading a single (celibate) life
- In ancient times and up to the 12th century, priests in Germany were permitted to marry and have families (Martin Luther and his early followers were German)
- As a matter of practicality, there will be a shortage of priests and pastors if the prohibition against clerical marriages continues any longer (Also see Do Lutheran Clergy Wear Collars?)
In essence, the basis of the Lutheran position favoring clerical marriage is an open acknowledgment that because humankind is morally flawed, and only a select few possess the inner strength to live a life of complete celibacy, the only viable solution (and one ordained by God, Himself) is to marry. And priests are no exception. 
Martin Luther Championed (Clerical) Marriage
The German reformer Martin Luther was the founding father of the Lutheran faith and one of the Reformation’s driving forces in Europe during the 16th century.
But in the eyes of many, Luther is also seen as a champion for the institution of marriage. Not just within the scope of advocating that priests be allowed to marry, but by restoring the long-lost esteem of matrimony.
Luther rejected the long-held notion that celibacy was a spiritually superior life choice than marriage and that matrimony was the option selected by those morally and temperamentally unfit for the “single life.” He espoused the beliefs that marriage:
- As with so many pre-Reformation Christian conventions and practices, marriage had fallen into a state of disrepair thanks to corruption, disorganization, and conflict within the Catholic Church
- The concept of marriage as a union between two loving spouses and the foundation upon which a family was built is a noble one deserving of respect and reverence in the Christian doctrine
- Should be entered into primarily for the purpose of procreation, but that moral fidelity and sexual well-being are also best served through the institution of marriage
- Involving underage participants should not be allowed without thorough preparation and the counsel and approval of their parents (broken marriages between underage spouses were apparently a serious problem leading up to the Reformation)
- As long as humankind dwells on earth, marriage is a God-ordained necessity without which the human race cannot continue 
Luther himself was in a controversial marriage
Luther’s passion when preaching on the subject of marriage was on full display each time he spoke of it at the pulpit.
His controversial position on marriage was cemented when in 1525, five years before the Diet of Augsburg, Luther (he a former Augustinian monk) married Katharina von Bora, a disavowed nun. She had fled from her convent (in a barrel, according to some sources). (Also see Lutheran vs Episcopalian: What’s the Difference?)
In making the transition from a life of celibacy as a monk to an icon in the field of theology who was married with children, Luther did not only preach about matrimony; he participated in it.
In so doing, he became its most vocal and influential advocate. In the eyes of many Christians, Luther single-handedly restored the concept of the family structure back to a position of respect and esteem.  (Also see Lutheran vs Non-Denominational: What’s the Difference?)
Christian Views on marriage leading up to the Reformation
During the Middle Ages, monasteries sprouted throughout Europe, and celibacy was seen as the lifestyle choice to which all people (especially clergy) should aspire.
However, even having taken vows of abstinence, stories of monks and nuns engaging in sexual affairs and even having children together were fairly commonplace. (Also see Do Lutherans Pray for the Dead?)
Although on a lesser spiritual and moral plane than celibacy, or even virginity, marriage came to be recognized for three essential positives from a religious standpoint:
- The creation of offspring
- The encouragement of faithfulness and virtue
- The upholding of a union ordained by God
These ideals would form the backbone of Luther’s contentions and the foundation for Article XXIII of the Augsburg Confession, professing support for clerical marriage.  (Also see Do Lutherans Speak in Tongues?)
Lutheran doctrine took on hotly debated social and religious issues of the Reformation period and was decidedly pro-marriage for all people, including clergy members. (Also see Can a Lutheran Be a Catholic Godparent?)
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