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  • Print publication year: 2002
  • Online publication date: November 2009

6 - The mother of all earthly laws: The reformation of marriage law


Questions of sex, marriage, and family life occupied Lutheran theologians and jurists from the very beginning of the Reformation. The leading theological lights – Martin Luther, Philip Melanchthon, Martin Bucer, Johannes Bugenhagen, and Johannes Brenz – all prepared lengthy tracts on the subject in the 1520s. A score of leading jurists took up legal questions of marriage in their legal opinions and commentaries, often working under the direct inspiration of Evangelical theology and theologians. Virtually every German polity that converted to the Evangelical cause had new marriage laws on the books within a decade of its acceptance of the Reformation, which was then heavily revised in subsequent generations.

The reformers' early preoccupation with marriage was driven in part by their theology. Many of the core issues of the Reformation were affected by the prevailing Catholic theology and canon law of marriage. The Church's jurisdiction over marriage was, for the reformers, a particularly flagrant example of the Church's usurpation of the magistrate's authority. The Catholic sacramental concept of marriage, on which the Church predicated its jurisdiction, raised deep questions of sacramental theology and biblical interpretation. The canonical prohibition on the marriage of clergy and monastics stood sharply juxtaposed to Evangelical doctrines of the priesthood and of the Christian vocation. The canon law impediments to marriage, its prohibitions on complete divorce and remarriage, and its close regulations of sexuality, parenting, and education all stood in considerable tension with the reformers' interpretation of biblical teaching.

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Law and Protestantism
  • Online ISBN: 9780511613548
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