Published in John Witte, Jr. and Gary S. Hauk, eds., Christianity and Family Law: An Introduction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017), 195-210
15 Pages Posted: 28 Dec 2017 Last revised: 20 Jul 2019
Date Written: December 21, 2017
Former Augustinian monk Martin Luther (1483-1546) rejected the canon law rules of clerical and monastic celibacy as a dangerous denial of God’s soothing gift of marriage to remedy lust. He rejected the church’s sacramental theology of marriage as a self-serving biblical fiction, and instead called marriage a social estate of earthy life, open to Christians and non-Christians alike. And he rejected the church’s legal control over the family, and instead called for the state to govern family law and the church to offer pastoral care to families and catechesis for children. The new state family laws that emerged in Lutheran lands in response incorporated many traditional canon law and Roman law rules. But they also now called for mandatory parental consent, two witnesses, civil registration, and church consecration for valid marriages; strongly encouraged clerical marriage; greatly reduced the impediments to betrothal and marriage; permitted interreligious marriages; created new structures for the catechesis and education of children; and allowed for divorce in cases of serious fault, and remarriage for the innocent party. Luther’s views remained foundational for later Protestants into the twenty-first century and were critical parts of the family law reforms of early modern times.
Keywords: Martin Luther; Protestant Reformation; marriage; family; monasticism; celibacy; marriage; divorce; parentage; children; remarriage; canon law; civil law; three estates theory; church and state; women’s rights; procreation; children; education; catechesis
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