Article XXXII: Of the marriage of priests

This post is part of a Lenten series on the 39 Articles.

Article XXXII: Of the marriage of priests
Bishops, Priests, and Deacons are not commanded by God’s laws either to vow the estate of single life or to abstain from marriage. Therefore it is lawful also 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.

Here’s another article that’s quite straightforward. It is obviously a response to the Roman Catholic teachings concerning clerical celibacy. The topic of clerical marriage is less interesting to me than the question about church discipline and when it can be changed. In its beginning, the church permitted clergy to marry. And then, for well-rehearsed reasons primarily related to property, the church changed its tune. Morality was surely an issue too, but that didn’t exactly go away once authorities declared that clergy were celibate. But I digress.

In clerical celibacy we have a classic example of church discipline. The scriptures are not clear on the issue, though a decent case could be made either in favor or against clerical celibacy. The church’s tradition has changed. That is, the church can change its discipline, and has done so. The mechanism for these changes could be an ecumenical council or a ruling by a hierarch (usually the Pope or Patriarch) or perhaps a synod. Of course, local practice will have always paved the way for change.

One begins to wonder what other areas of church discipline might be in need of change. It also seems that the difference between doctrine and discipline might be in the eye of the beholder at times. Perhaps there are things that we imagine we can change, but which should be off limits. And maybe there are areas of our life together that ought to be changed, but which some would argue cannot be changed. It’s a pity, in our increasingly fractured world, that the universal church cannot gather for consultation. (We Anglicans can’t even manage it ourselves, sadly.)

Today’s article ends with this goal-oriented phrase: “…as they shall judge the same to serve better to godliness”. If we thought that way more often, the church might be in better shape.

Here are some questions for pondering or meditation:

  • Are clergy able to serve more effectively as married (or partnered) persons? Are there down sides to married (or partnered) clergy?
  • Should better service be important in making decisions about church discipline?
  • Are the conversations about partnered clergy today similar to those the church must have had in the 16th century around married clergy?
  • How would we know when we should modify church discipline? What is the difference between doctrine and discipline?

Let your continual mercy, O Lord, cleanse and defend your Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without your help, protect and govern it always by your goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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3 Responses

  1. I’ve heard similar arguments between Catholic and Orthodox people- the Orthodox claim their priests can counsel married couples better because they are themselves married. Then again, many Orthodox priests are monks anyway…

    I think the last two questions, and perhaps the second too, are answered by Article VI.

  2. Steve Lusk says:

    Does no one read 1 Timothy (3:2-5 and 3:8-12) and Titus (1:5-6)in the “literal and grammatical sense”? These seem to REQUIRE that bishops, deacons, and priests (elders) ALL be men, each with one (and only one) grave, sober, and faithful wife and multiple children old enough to give evidence of being “in subjection with all gravity.” “For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?” Yet those who cite these verses as proof-texts against ordaining women tend to defend a celibate priesthood or episcopate in defiance of those very same verses.

  3. Bob Chapman says:

    Mr. Lusk,

    I am not an expert of biblical Greek. Even so, your cited passages in 1 Timothy only mentions deacons and bishops.

    Since the overseer (bishop) was the senior elder in a community, I would have expected “elder” if the requirement was for all elders.

    There is also the issue of using the male gender of a word whenever the gender could be either male or female.

    The Orthodox have always ordained women as deacons.