Marriage – the lower estate?

I was heading back from Symposia in Fort Wayne (another post on that to come soon) and tuning through the radio (AM) when I came across an interview with a Roman Catholic Priest concerning marriage.  He went through many “proofs” of marriage being for the weak or lowly, affirming the age-old Roman Catholic doctrine of the devil concerning marriage.  It was amazing to hear how poorly the priest talked about the married estate (especially at a time when I was hurrying home to be with wife and kids).  It was also refreshing to hear a priest be so honest about Roman Catholic beliefs.  Confessionalism is on the rise in all “traditions”.

A thought passed through my mind while considering what the priest was saying –

Is the Roman Catholic view of marriage one of the reasons why marriage is so poorly viewed today? Certainly divorce rates, homosexual marriage, and cohabitation play their major role as well, but this priest certainly was not lifting up marriage as anything to strive for.  Of course there is no objective study saying so, but I would say that a Roman Catholic teenager listening to the priest over the radio (or God forbid in the parish) would go on to believe that getting married would be a less saintly and less god-pleasing life.

I am reminded of a situation I remember reading in one of the biographies of Luther lately – I am preparing a Community Education course on Luther’s home life.  Luther was outside hanging up diapers to dry on the line when another person came by and rebuked him for doing such lowly work (obviously when he should have been doing some mighty pastoral work).  Luther replied with something to the effect of “The angels in heaven rejoice” and kept on dealing with the diapers.

Another common one about Luther is when he asserts (I think in a table talk) that a father changing diapers is doing a holy and good work.

What do you think?  What factors have made the world view marriage as it does today?  Do you think that the Roman Catholic Church has contributed to this?

About Pastor Joshua Scheer

Pastor Joshua Scheer is the Senior Pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He is also the Editor-in-chief of Brothers of John the Steadfast. He oversees all of the work done by Steadfast Lutherans. He is a regular host of Concord Matters on KFUO. Pastor Scheer and his lovely wife Holly (who writes and manages the Katie Luther Sisters) have four children and enjoy living in Wyoming.


Marriage – the lower estate? — 42 Comments

  1. The Antichrist has harmed many aspects of Christian (as well as American) life at the same time he has gained a few Lutheran sycophants.

    The AC and Ap.XXIII, as well as the SA.III.XI, speak against the Antichrist and his cult followers and their blasphemies on marriage.

  2. Simply stated, I think there is a very low of view of the inistitution of marriage because of: IDOLATRY! Man (includes both sexes) wants what he wants and will do whatever he has to to get it. America, along with the world, is very self-absorbed. It’s all about me!!! (oh, by the way, there is a ministry out there for this too! It’s only $19.95).

    The world is all about pleasure and man wants all he can get. By the way, you can’t tell me what to do! Man is his own authority. Society has pushed God right over the cliff.

    The cultic worship of self will lead to destruction in ther eternal fires of hell. Can the view of marriage be changed? Yes, when parents begin being parents again. Yes, when authorities become responsible in their vocations. Yes, when children no longer rule the roost at home and begin honoring their father and mother. Yes, when people repent and return to the House of the Lord and make God the priority in their lives. Yes, when soccer, football, and all other social events that the children are dragged off to to keep them busy and make them tired and the family then returns to Church.

    Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Amen.

  3. Is the Roman Catholic view of marriage one of the reasons why marriage is so poorly viewed today?

    Yeah, those people who won’t commune the divorced…

    That would be a NO, they are about the last I’d blame, fwiw, and yes, CV is right, too.

  4. In a word, no.

    One priest’s view of marriage does not necessarily represent the view of Catholic Church.

    Did you take the time to research the official Catholic view of marriage?

    I don’t know much, but I know that Catholics view marriage as a sacrament, which correct or not, in their view puts marriage on par with baptism and communion.

    This post doesn’t make any sense.

  5. @alan #4
    I understand that one priest doesn’t represent the whole RCC.
    I understand that the official view is that it is a sacrament.
    It is also viewed by the church as a lower form of life than those who are ordained into the priesthood. This priest was towing that company line and as I said, was refreshing for his honesty.

  6. The RC is certainly part of the problem of churches (not just the RC) “defining” marriage as it pleases them, just as governmental authorities arrogate to themselves to “define” marriage as they see fit. Neither hold that authority any more than they have the authority to make the sun rise. It is little wonder that many individuals simply take the next step and decide on the “definition” for themselves, often concluding that the whole marriage thing is irrelevant.

    Clear teaching on vocation (for Christians) and natural law (for both Christians and unbelievers) is the only remedy I can see for this problem. Otherwise the argument among those equally not entitled to define marriage will go on until our Lord returns.

  7. @alan #4
    For more information about marriage being lower than virginity and celibacy (requirements of holy orders), see the Canons of the Council of Trent:
    “CANON X.-If any one saith, that the marriage state is to be placed above the state of virginity, or of celibacy, and that it is not better and more blessed to remain in virginity, or in celibacy, than to be united in matrimony; let him be anathema. ”

  8. Well, the Bible also calls celibacy a higher gift. The big problem to me with Rome is not that they say that celibacy is a higher gift, but that they force people who can’t be celibate to take vows of celibacy. Also, they imagine that a person pleases God more–wins more favor from God–by forgoing marriage. That is really a problem, because it teaches us that we are more or less holy before God on account of our works, instead of by faith in Christ alone.

    As to whether or not Rome’s teaching can be faulted for the decay of marriage in our country, I kind of think the answer is no. In general, Christianity has lost its intellectual and moral authority in the US, catholics as well as protestants. Actually, if we were to point the finger at a church that is responsible for the decline of marriage in the US, the protestant churches, particularly mainline protestants, would be more deserving. At least Rome still says marriage is holy; mainline protestants have changed the church’s teaching in order to approve or permit divorce, abortion, homosexual unions, etc. And conservative protestants like us may not have formally changed our teaching, but in practice we have permitted the flood waters to roll in. Divorce and cohabitation have become normal among us too.

  9. The Confessions, following the Bible, also say that celibacy is the higher gift, if it is given. But it is not to be coerced.

    Therefore it is not wise to say, as has been said among Lutherans of my acquaintance, that it is not possible to lead a single celibate life, or, (as is common in these days), to assume that singleness reflects a leaning toward homosexuality.

    But to get back to Pr Scheer’s topic, I think your priest has an unusual point of view.
    One could speculate on the reasons, but that wouldn’t be wise either!

  10. I was just watching CBS Sunday Morning this morning before getting ready for church and they had a piece on there from Barry Peterson. His wife of 25 years has acute alzheimers and he was portraying her in his story. At the end, it showed him walking down the street with his new love that he lives with while his wife is in assisted living. Yes, he is still married to her, but his explanation is that she does not remember him anymore and talks about him in the third person. I think it is a shining example of how vows are not taken seriously anymore and how we conform them to our set of values and beliefs to fit what is best for us. I think it speaks volumes about what America thinks about marriage vows and the institute of holy matrimony. Count me in the minority on this one, I’m guessing, but his place is with his wife, caring for her even if she doesn’t remember who he is anymore. God didn’t give us the bonds of marriage for us to bend them to fit our view of how we should be! Great post Pastor!

  11. From Luther’s Sermon ‘A the Marriage of Sigismund von Lindenau, 1545, LW 51:

    “’Let the marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled.’ Hold fast to that, those of you who are married. St. Augustine writes in one place concerning married people, that even if one of them is somewhat weak, etc., he should not be afraid of the sudden and infallible Day of the Lord; even if the day of the Lord were to come in the hour when man and wife were having marital intercourse, they should not be afraid of it. Why is this so? Because even if the Lord comes in that hour he will find them in the ordinance and station in which they have been placed and installed by God.”

    Clearly, Luther viewed marriage Biblically: it’s a high vocation. Marriage is covered by two commandments. He also would point out that as a vocation marriage is literally on the 1st page of the Bible and you read nothing about monks and nuns. It is my opinion that Luther either rediscovered or recovered the vocational integrity of marriage. So the Reformers differed wholly with the papal church on this, as also indicated by Pr. Scheer’s quote from Trent. But reading for instance Humanae Vitae, their understanding is much more in line with the Biblical understanding than with, most obviously, liberal Protestants.

    In our time, we do not understand marriage as vocation but recreation and as recreative, marriage is not primarily procreative. If marriage is simply only to make licit sexual relations, then why does one need a marriage certificate, a “piece of paper”? Esp. with birth control. But marriage so much more: unitive and procreative in the Lord’s vocation of those whom He joins together, places into their office.

  12. Interesting note: Bishop John Ireland (St. Paul, MN) refused to accept a Russian Catholic immigrant into the American Catholic church because it was too Russian and the priest was a widower which made him unfit to be a catholic priest.

  13. I recently had a small debate about the sanctity of marriage, and whether or not it is better to be married, so I know that the 5th point of the Apology XXIII addresses this idea directly. Marriage is pure because God has made it pure. To say less of it would be to deny the Word of God.

    “26] Fifthly, Although the adversaries do not defend the law because of superstition, [not because of its sanctity, as from ignorance], since they see that it is not generally observed, nevertheless they diffuse superstitious opinions, while they give a pretext of religion. They proclaim that they require celibacy because it is purity. As though marriage were impurity and a sin, or as though celibacy merited justification more than does marriage!…

    …28] But ye shall reply in order to these figments. In the first place, it is necessary for the adversaries to acknowledge this, namely, that in believers marriage is pure because it has been sanctified by the Word of God, i.e., it is a matter that is permitted and approved by the Word of God, as Scripture abundantly testifies. 29] For Christ calls marriage a divine union, when He says, Matt. 19:6: What 30] God hath joined together [let not man put asunder. Here Christ says that married people are joined together by God. Accordingly, it is a pure, holy, noble, praiseworthy work of God]. And Paul says of marriage, of meats and similar things, 1 Tim. 4:5: It is sanctified by the Word of God and prayer, i.e., by the Word, by which consciences become certain that God approves; and by prayer, i.e., by faith, which uses it with thanksgiving 31] as a gift of God. Likewise, 1 Cor. 7:14, The unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, etc., i.e., the use of marriage is permitted and holy on account of faith in Christ, just as it is permitted to use meat, etc. Likewise, 32] 1 Tim. 2:15: She shall be saved in childbearing [if they continue in faith], etc….

    …33] These testimonies teach that marriage is a lawful [a holy and Christian] thing. If therefore purity signifies that which is allowed and approved before God, marriages are pure, because they have been approved by the Word of God. 34] And Paul says of lawful things, Titus 1:15: Unto the pure all things are pure, i.e., to those who believe in Christ and are righteous by faith. Therefore, as virginity is impure in the godless, so in the godly marriage is pure on account of the Word of God and faith.”

  14. That said, the Confessions do state that virginity is the greater gift, so long as it is not understood that virginity makes one “more holy”. Virginity is a gift from God, though it is a rare gift. Those who can accept the teaching of not being married, should.

    “36] Lastly, if they understand that celibacy is purity in the sense that it merits justification more than does marriage, we most emphatically contradict it. For we are justified neither on account of virginity nor on account of marriage, but freely for Christ’s sake, when we believe that for His sake 37] God is propitious to us…

    …For just as one gift surpasses another, as prophecy surpasses eloquence, the science of military affairs surpasses agriculture, and eloquence surpasses architecture, so virginity is a more excellent gift than 39] marriage. And nevertheless, just as an orator is not more righteous before God because of his eloquence than an architect because of his skill in architecture, so a virgin does not merit justification by virginity more than a married person merits it by conjugal duties, but each one ought faithfully to serve in his own gift, and to believe that for Christ’s sake he receives the remission of sins and by faith is accounted righteous before God….

    …For when men believe that they are pure and righteous on account of such hypocrisy, they suppress the knowledge of Christ, and suppress also the knowledge of God’s gifts and commandments. For God wishes 47] us to use His gifts in a godly way. And we might mention examples where certain godly consciences were greatly disturbed on account of the lawful use of marriage. This evil was derived from the opinions of monks superstitiously praising celibacy [and proclaiming the married estate as a life that would be a great obstacle to salvation, and full of sins]. 48] Nevertheless we do not find fault with temperance or continence, but we have said above that exercises and mortifications of the body are necessary. We indeed deny that confidence should be placed in certain observances, as though they made righteous.”

  15. @Andrew Strickland #14
    …it was too Russian and the priest was a widower which made him unfit to be a catholic priest.

    Interesting, in view of the fact that married pastors from Anglican and Lutheran roots have been accepted into the current Roman Catholic church.

    When the celibacy requirement was decreed for priests, many who were married were forced to abandon their wives and children, as Luther writes in condemning the practice.

  16. No. Roman Catholics, and the Roman Catholic Church, have consistently been staunch advocates of traditional marriage, even while holding false views concerning mandatory priestly celibacy.

    Most of those leading the US National Organization for Marriage are Catholic; Catholics are right in the middle of the public square supporting marriage (they heavily supported California’s Prop 8, for example); and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops just recently launched a huge, DVD-based marriage initiative.

    It is the Lutherans who have not kept pace with the Roman Catholics in supporting marriage, especially in the public square; in fact, liberal “Lutherans” are now trying to destroy marriage.

    Think ELCA.

    Robert at

  17. @Robert #20
    Right on, Robert! It was the Roman Catholics who brought Marriage Encounter and Engaged Encounter to America from Spain. (ME and EE may be flawed, like all human institutions, but many have been blessed through these programs). That celibacy (or “vocation” as they call it) is ranked above marriage in the RC hierarchy of gifts is immaterial. One priest talking down marriage does not make it RC dogma. The Lutheran Churches, including the LCMS, have been less than faithful in their affirmation of marriage, and their administration of this “holy estate.”
    The RC’s attitude toward divorce is admirable, it’s flawed and often rationalistic handling of same.

    Rather than trash the entire RC church, that priest ought to be taken out to the woodshed.


  18. OOPS. The last sentence in the first paragraph should read, “The RC’s attitude toward divorce is admirable, it’s flawed and often rationalistic handling of same NOTWITHSTANDING.”


  19. Have to agree with most here that RCs have almost no blame on this and certainly less than “Lutherans”. While there are many cultural causes (i.e. the 1960s), the institution most to blame is without a doubt the Government. If you are poor and young in this country you have to be an idiot or a Christian to get married. Your finances are much more stable if you just live together and lie about it. By the same token if you are older and contemplating marrriage it almost never makes financial sense. I am sure many Pastors have, like me, run into people who are functionally married but will not get married because of finances. My simple proposal to start fixing the marriage problem in America is to start by ignoring marriage for tax and benefit purposes. It should no longer be a relevant question as to what people receive or pay. That is a less than perfect solution, but it is much better than our current situation.

  20. A question for the pastors. Five states and the District of Columbia allow gays to marry. If a gay “married” couple were members of your congregation would you counsel divorce?
    Please forgive if this question sidetracks but I do believe it is one that may (unfortunately) become increasingly relevant.

  21. @#4 Kitty #25
    On a theological level, there would be no need for a divorce as there is no such thing as a “gay marriage” to begin with. The government does not have the authority to create such a relationship no matter what the political authorities say.

    However, in order that the individuals make a public statement that they are not “married” it might be necessary for them to obtain a secular divorce or annulment.

  22. Pr. Joynt @ #23,

    I am sure many Pastors have, like me, run into people who are functionally married but will not get married because of finances. My simple proposal to start fixing the marriage problem in America is to start by ignoring marriage for tax and benefit purposes.

    Perhaps the better solution is to start by ignoring the statist view of marriage and return to the natural law view that those who are “functionally” married are in fact married if they are willing to state that lifelong monogamous cohabitation is their intent. That is the “legal”
    burden of the old (and misleadingly named) “common law marriage”, which is in fact, just marriage. U.S. state governments no longer “recognize” this form of marriage specifically because it is too much of a pain to legally verify. That does not mean that the government (or for that matter, the Church) has the right to say that it doesn’t exist.

    If a man and woman thus married do not intend to ask the government for tax or dispute resolution benefits on the basis of their married status then it is none of the governments business.

    This solution does not require any changes in existing law. It does require a rejection of statist (and not biblically supportable) attitudes about the nature of marriage.

  23. The state has power to request a marriage “license” only when we acede to their request. Adam and Eve (and countless others) had no such license from the state. Luther says that all authority derives from parents, not the state. Requiring celibacy falls outside Scripture, and elevating it above marriage contradicts many things, including our Lord’s first miraculous sign at Cana. Confessional Lutheranism will need to seriously rethink our blanket acceptance of Ceasar’s decrees.

  24. The problem comes because the complexities of our relationship with Rome. We have profound differences, certainly. They rejected justification by Grace alone, which is the center of the Gospel. But there is much in Rome that is admirable. When they say marriage is less than celibacy, we would say that they are wrong. When they uphold marriage as a God given estate, they are correct. In the public square we often find that Rome is our most reliable ally. That doesn’t change the fracture in the theological relationship.

  25. @James Sarver #27
    My simple proposal to start fixing the marriage problem in America is to start by ignoring marriage for tax and benefit purposes.”

    So the wife who is required to stay home and raise the kids is owed nothing when the wage earning husband finds a younger model?

  26. To all who have offered disagreement with me on this – thanks, I realize that my question was not the right one (Dr. Masaki would have said “wrong question”). The Roman Church certainly values marriage and upholds it well. The priest on the radio program was very wrongfully lifting up the celibate priesthood by lowering the married estate – something I am sure his bishop would not find pleasing (maybe he hasn’t already).

    The other question of acknowledging gay marriages and requiring divorces is an interesting one – and some of the suggestions are also interesting. I was just reading a work by C.M. Zorn on the Catechism, in particular the 6th Commandment where Zorn affirmed that engagement is actually marriage (based upon the nativity story texts). This also entailed a discussion about when marriage occurred in the order of the Scriptures (and to whom it belongs). I will hopefully have time later tonight to comment on it (from the book itself since my memory is fuzzy on the matter).

  27. Helen @ #30,

    I was quoting Pr. Joynt @ #23 (thus the quotation marks) in order to disagree with his solution.

    My point is not about property rights but about clear thinking on the nature of marriage. I do think that in the case of the “functionally married” couples he cites they should be able to opt out of the benefits the state provides to those who comply with governmental legal requirements without having their consciences burdened by notions that they are unrepentant fornicators and/or adulterers.

    Good doctrine derives from scripture. Good policy derives from clear thinking. There appears to be a deficit of both regarding the nature of marriage.

  28. @Pastor Michael Joynt #23
    …My simple proposal to start fixing the marriage problem in America is to start by ignoring marriage for tax and benefit purposes.”…

    So the wife who is required to stay home and raise the kids is owed nothing when the wage earning husband finds a younger model? –hej

    I apologize for asking the wrong person. Will the right one now reply to my question?

    The government no longer requires a widow [over 60; they must have read Timothy!] to give up her spousal social security if she remarries, which solved some problems in Florida, I’ve been told.
    Corporations are not always that generous, (again, 2nd hand knowledge).

  29. @helen #33

    You asked the right person the first time. Divorce law would not be impacted by what I have suggested. Rather, people would be treated as individual entities for tax and benefit purposes. However, under Mr. Sarver’s proposal, the decision to avoid state sanctioned marriage would leave a woman with much fewer rights in that circumstance.

    Mr. Sarver’s larger point is misguided. Under his suggestion couples may not be violating the 6th commandment, but they are violating the 4th. In general, the only way people can financially beneift by not being married, but living together as if married is to lie to the government about their status. This is known as cheating on our taxes and is specificially prohibited. Nobody said you had to like the government’s rules, but you do have to obey them, even when they are stupid.

    If I want to lower my taxes by lying their are lots of ways to do it (I used to be a tax lawyer and I still know enough of how it works so I pretty much guarantee you I wouldn’t be caught). What ever lie I choose to cheat the government does not matter. Once I do so I remain a liar and a cheat regardless of my own vapid justifications or the idiocy of its rules.

  30. @#4 Kitty #25
    At least in my church, we would never allow a homosexual couple claiming pseudo-marriage into the congregation in the first place – treating them the same as an unrepentant thief or adulterer.

  31. Pr. Joynt @ #34,

    “However, under Mr. Sarver’s proposal, the decision to avoid state sanctioned marriage would leave a woman with much fewer rights in that circumstance. ”

    I am certainly not recommending this for everyone. Do you have a problem with adults who would willingly do without state sponsored dispute resolution?

    “Under his suggestion couples may not be violating the 6th commandment, but they are violating the 4th.”

    So your only problem with these “functionally married” couples is that you perceive them as liars and/or scofflaws?

    “This is known as cheating on our taxes and is specificially prohibited. Nobody said you had to like the government’s rules, but you do have to obey them, even when they are stupid. ”

    So your position is that tax law makes it illegal to behave as if married without a license from the government? That it is illegal to conduct ones affairs in such a way as to minimize taxes? Just wondering.

  32. @James Sarver #38

    Sorry it took me so long to get back to you. My point is that under almost every situation in which one could save money by being married in the church and not under government liscensure, not reporting the marriage in the church to the government would be fraud, and reporting it to the government would have the same effect as getting the liscense. Your error seems to be one of law. Living together as a married couple, would for most (if not all) negative tax and benefit situations, have the same impact as having a marriage liscense. Having been married in the church would just make it more so. So if the question is Medicaid, or AFDC, or SSI, or tax credits, or almost anything else I am aware of, the government is going to treat you the same with or without the liscense, unless you fail to report your situation, that is cheat and lie. The only possible exception that jumps to mind is the marital exemption in gift and estate tax and even then I am just guessing that the government would deny the benefit without proper liscense (because that makes them more money. Might shock you but that is how the government tends to work.)

  33. Pr. Joynt @ 39,

    “My point is that under almost every situation in which one could save money by being married in the church and not under government liscensure, not reporting the marriage in the church to the government would be fraud, and reporting it to the government would have the same effect as getting the liscense.”

    Again, my point is not about property rights or even saving money on taxes, but about clear thinking on the nature of marriage.

    Specifically in the case of the “functionally married” couple we have been discussing you have stated that they are violating the 4th commandment. My suggestion was that they declare themselves to be married (since they are already performing all the actions of a married couple). This constitutes what used to be called “commonlaw marriage”. It is a valid form of marriage whether anybody likes it or not. The church recognizes it. State governments in the U.S. currently do not. In either case it does not matter. There is no deception. They are breaking no laws by choosing not to get a state license for marriage (nor any commandments for choosing not to have a church ceremony). What they have done is to forego any available government benefits based on theit marital status. They should be able to do that, as informed adults, without being accused by their Pastor of being unrepentant sinners.

    That is, unless you believe that the state (or the church) “own” marriage and that persons may not be validly married without permission from one or both. It is a popular belief, but it is incorrect.

  34. @James Sarver #40
    State governments in the U.S. currently do not.

    From a FAQ in Travis Co Texas:

    Q: What makes a common law marriage?
    A: Three elements must be present to form a common law marriage in Texas.
    First, you must have “agreed to be married.”
    Second, you must have “held yourselves out” as husband and wife. You must have represented to others that you were married to each other. As an example of this, you may have introduced you partner socially as “my husband,” or you may have filed a joint income tax return.
    Third, you must have lived together in this state as husband and wife.

  35. Helen @ #41,

    Now that I looked closer there are nine states (including Texas) that still recognize common law marriage. Where I live (Oklahoma) recognition is supposedly grandfathered for marriages established before 11-1-98.

    The reason states have dropped recognition of common law marriage is that it is difficult to determine for the purposes of legal proceedings. It is proper for states to regulate their legal systems. If one wants the benefits one should get the license.

    That does not mean they have legislated marriages out of existence any more than they have “created” same sex marriages in the cases where this has been legislated. Their legislative pronouncements are not valid where the legislature has no authority. They might as well pronounce that day is night or that the laws of thermodynamics no longer apply.

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