Throughout the length of our study we have underlined the narrative nature of the articles; thus the exposition on church discipline in articles 32-36 follows logically from the previous articles on the nature of the church, the gospel ministry, and the sacraments.
XXXII — OF THE MARRIAGE OF PRIESTS
Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, are not commanded by God’s Law, either to vow the estate of single life, or to abstain from marriage: therefore it is lawful for them, as for all other Christian men, to marry at their own discretion, as they shall judge the same to serve better to godliness.
The title of Cranmer’s 1553 original was, “The State of the Single Life is Commanded to No Man by the Word of God” and consisted of the first clause only: Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, are not commanded to vow the state of the single life without marriage, nor by God’s law are they compelled to abstain from marriage.” The second clause was added by Archbishop Parker in 1563, giving the positive and biblically faithful rendering of marriage and godliness.
The phrase, “to vow the estate of single life” is very specific and should not be understood as the single life in general. Both Archbishops Cranmer and Parker had the Roman Catholic doctrine of celibacy in mind. Parker particularly as the doctrine was affirmed by the Council of Trent in November 1563 and remains in force to the present day.
CANON I.-If any one saith, that matrimony is not truly and properly one of the seven sacraments of the evangelic law, (a sacrament) instituted by Christ the Lord; but that it has been invented by men in the Church; and that it does not confer grace; let him be anathema.
CANON IX.-If any one saith, that clerics constituted in sacred orders, or Regulars, who have solemnly professed chastity, are able to contract marriage, and that being contracted it is valid, notwithstanding the ecclesiastical law, or vow; and that the contrary is nothing else than to condemn marriage; and, that all who do not feel that they have the gift of chastity, even though they have made a vow thereof, may contract marriage; let him be anathema.
One should also not make too much of the title change as has been done in the past. Some Anglicans have wrongly used the article as a proof-text for the idea that that the use of sacerdos rather than presbuteros proves that the Anglican doctrine has a more Catholic sacerdotal character than a Protestant ministerial one. The article is also used in the same manner to support the odd notion that the Anglican office of deacon was always understood as transitional office toward the priesthood rather than the vocational and permanent office in Christ’s church. A simple explanation of the title change is one that we have encountered before. It was to bring the Reformed Protestant Church of England into harmony with its continental brothers. The 1563/71 title, De conjugio sacerdotum is drawn from the earlier German Reformation confessions [Augsburg Confession 1530, Part II, article xxiii. Smalcald Articles, 1537, article 11]. The context of the German articles clearly addresses the Roman Catholic doctrine, and the Augsburg Confessional article gathers bishop, presbyter, and deacon in its exposition as we read here. The references never describe Protestant ministry as a sacerdotal one. Therefore article 31 is likewise specific toward Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox doctrines.
It is important to note how once again the articles apply the rule of sola scriptura to the doctrine and ministry of the church. There is no prohibition in Scripture to celibacy or abstention from marriage. The article says that what matters is God's law and godliness for everyone in the Church, and as far as sex is concerned, that means singleness or marriage. By the proper use of God’s Word (see Articles 6 and 20), our Anglican forebears ended the idea that celibacy was a godlier way of life, but at the same time added that there were high standards expected in marriage.
A wise Anglican will also read the article in light of the remaining historical formularies. The doctrine of marriage that underlines the article comes from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer’s The Form of Solemnization of Matrimony which in its opening exhortation sets out the biblical description of marriage as well as its biblical foundation in the sadly neglected homily provided at the end of the service. It is worth quoting it in full here.
ALL ye that are married or that intend to take the holy estate of Matrimony upon you, hear what the holy Scripture doth say as touching the duty of husbands towards their wives, and wives towards their husbands.
Saint Paul, in his Epistle to the Ephesians, the fifth Chapter, doth give this commandment to all married men; Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water, by the word; that he might present it to himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy, and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself: for no man ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the Church: for we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the Church. Nevertheless, let every one of you in particular so love his wife, even as himself.
Likewise, the same Saint Paul, writing to the Colossians, speaketh thus to all men that are married; Husbands, love your wives and be not bitter against them.
Hear also what Saint Peter, the Apostle of Christ, who was himself a married man, saith unto them that are married; Ye husbands, dwell with your wives according to knowledge; giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers be not hindered.
Hitherto ye have heard the duty of the husband toward the wife. Now likewise, ye wives, hear and learn your duties toward your husbands, even as it is plainly set forth in holy Scripture.
Saint Paul, in the aforenamed Epistle to the Ephesians, teacheth you thus; Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the Church: and he is the Saviour of the body. Therefore as the Church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. And again he saith, Let the wife see that she reverence her husband.
And in his Epistle to the Colossians, Saint Paul giveth you this short lesson; Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.
Saint Peter also doth instruct you very well, thus saying; Ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; while they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear. Whose adorning, let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible; even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands; even as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord; whose daughters ye are as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.
Next, the Anglican will study the Homily on Matrimony in the Second Book of Homilies for the effort of godliness in married life. Published in 1571, the same year the article was promulgated. The first part of the homily is taken from a sermon by the Lutheran reformer Vitus Theodorus (Veit Dietrich) of Nuremberg. He was Martin Luther’s housemate and confident, accompanying him to the Marburg Colloquy between Luther and Zwingli in 1529. The remainder of the homily is drawn from John Chrysostom’s homily on 1 Corinthians, homily xxvi [Bray, Homilies 472].
Wherefore, for as much as matrimony serveth as well to avoid sin and offence as to the increase of the kingdom of God, you, as all other which enter that state, must acknowledge this benefit of God with pure and thankful minds, for that he hath so ruled your hearts that ye follow no the example of the wicked world who set their delight in filthiness of sin, where both of you stand in the fear of God and abhor all filthiness.
Henry Jansma (@HenryJansma) is rector of All Souls Anglican Church in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and canon theologian for the Missionary Diocese of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America East.