Saturday, January 08, 2011
Luther allowed marriages between brother and sister & parent and child?
Luther allowed marriages between brother and sister as well as parent and child? So says Roman Catholic historian Heinrich Denifle. His findings rest on one word from Luther, "dead":
In 1528, all the marriage impediments juris ecclesiastici were declared by him to be dead, i.e., set aside; also even such as are juris naturalis, or nearly akin to it, consanguinitas, affinitas, and publicae honestatis. This follows from Luther's marginal note, "dead," on Spalatin's general paragraph: "What blood-relationship, marriage-relationship, and spiritual affinity hinder marriage." In an incredible but logical manner, he then declares "dead," i.e. set aside, the impedimenta consanguinitatis (969) also consanguinitas in linea recta, at least insofar as it forbids marriage in infinitum (a), and consanguinitas in linea obliqua, even in the first degree between brother and sister (b). Naturally there was less difficulty in the cases of marriage with the daughter of one's brother or sister, and with the sister of one's father or mother (a), or in the degrees of affinitas or marriage relationship (c, d), or in publica honestas (e).
All this was included in Luther's conception of Christian liberty, i.e., unbounded and unbridled licentiousness, not less, indeed, than in his endeavor to do the opposite of the provisions of the laws of the Church. Of the permissibility of marriage in the first degree of blood-relationship, Protestants of that time said nothing, as neither did Luther to my knowledge. But here and there in the circles of his followers, people were scandalized on account of the marriages of persons related in the second or third degree, such marriages being considered contrary to natural decorum.
(969)On Jan. 3, 1528, John, Elector of Saxony, asked Luther to revise and correct Spalatin's memorial on marriage matters. Luther did so. Spalatin's memorial, with Luther's corrections and marginal notes, was printed in Burkhardt's "Martin Luthers Briefwechsel", p. 123-130 (thence taken by Enders, VI, 182-186). The portions that interest us are found on p. 130. The general section in Spalatin's memorial reads : "Welche Sippschaft und Magschaft nach Vermuge und Ordnung die Ehe verhindern." On this Luther wrote the all-annihilating word "tod"—dead, i.e., set aside. In detail: (a) "Zum ersten so ist den Personen, so einander in der aufsteigenden und neidersteigenden Linie verwandt, die Ehe in infinitum durch und durch allenthalben verboten." On this proposition Luther made the marginal annotation, "tod." Spalatin continues: (b) "Zum andern : Bruder und Schwester mogen sich nicht verehelichen, so mag einer auch seines Bruders oder Scliwester Tochter oder Enkel nicht nehmen. Desgleichen ist verboten seines Vaters, Grossvaters, der Mutter, Grossmutter Schwester zu heiraten." Luther wrote on the margin of the first line, and at the same time for the whole proposition, "tod." Propositions on affinitas (c, d) and publica honestas (d) follow. Moreover, the lawfulness of marriage between brother and sister according to Luther is a consequence of his principles, and only the imperial law would have been able to determine him for its unlawfulness. From his "tod" on proposition a, it would also have been possible to prove that, according to him, even marriage between father and daughter, mother and son was lawful [source].
This charge was evaluated by Preserved Smith in his review of Denifle's book:
Luther And Lutherdom. From Original Sources by Heinrich Denifle. Translated from the Second Revised Edition of the German by RayMund Volz. Vol. I, Part 1. Torch Press. Somerset, Ohio. 1917. Pp. lii, 465.
To call, with Gooch, "Denifle's eight hundred pages hurled at the memory of the Reformer among the most repulsive books in historical literature," is not a bit too strong. That the author's feelings were so immensely enlisted would not matter if the man only had a spark of the candor and real desire to be fair that distinguishes the work of scholars like Pastor and Acton. But Denifle's mind was so warped by hatred that, while preternaturally sharp-sighted in detecting the slightest faults of Luther or the most trivial errors of modern Protestant scholars, he was, to the larger aspects of his subject, portentously blind. Luther and Lutherdom is a learned and elaborate libel.
Let us take a single example of its famous " method." The Dominican asserts that Luther set aside all prohibitions of consanguineous marriages, even that of parent and child and of brother and sister (p. 324). Any other scholar, in making so startling a charge, would examine the evidence carefully. In proportion to the vast improbability that the Reformer should here have gone counter not only to all Christian sentiment but to that of the whole world, savage as well as civilized, the historian should have demanded copious proof and have sifted it judicially. One would expect that in a point like this a great stir would have been made and much would be forthcoming. But Denifle bases his assertion on a single word. When Spalatin drew up a table of forbidden degrees for the use of the Saxon Visitors, he wrote: "Bruder und Schwester mugen sich nicht verehelichen; so mag einer auch seines Bruders oder Sch wester Tochter oder Enkel nicht nehmen." In revising the list Luther wrote opposite this section "Todt," which Denifle interprets to mean that he repealed the whole law (Enders: Luthers Briefweciisel, vi, 186). The intrinsic improbability of this interpretation is so enormous, unsupported as it is by a single other passage in all the Reformer's voluminous works, that, even if the document in question stood alone, the careful searcher for truth would be forced to conclude that, whatever "todt" meant, it could not mean this. But the document does not stand alone. With it Luther sent a letter (De Wette: Luthers Briefe, iii, 260), in which the real meaning of the word is clearly shown to be merely "strike out," and the reason is distinctly given, namely that it is better on such points to allow the Visitors to give oral instruction when necessary. In the same letter and paragraph Luther discusses the marriage of uncle and niece, which on Biblical precedent he allows, but he says not one word on the marriage of kinsmen in the first and second degrees, proof positive that he never even so much as contemplated the possibility of it.
Of course Denifle's work is not all as worthless as this. His wide reading in scholastic and patristic literature served to elucidate some of Luther's ideas and to point out the failings of his recent editors and biographers. But though the scholar can still learn something from this work, yet its value has greatly decreased since it was first published fourteen years ago. Luther's commentary on Romans, known to Denifle in manuscript, has since been published in model form, and the researches of Scheel and Ficker and A. V. Miiller and Grisar and many other scholars have left the learned Dominican far in the rear.
The worst that can usually be said of the present translation is that it is extremely inelegant, and the proof poorly read ("Eues" for "Cues," p. xlvii, "Raumburg" for "Naumburg," p. 143). The inelegance is due in part to the desire to be literal, as when Volz renders, "Aurifaber omitted this passage, likely as smutty" (p. 105). In some cases, however, the sense of the original is totally missed. Where Denifle wrote: "Man mtisse meinem Werke gegenüber den Standpunkt Niedriger hangen, einnehmen: Luther und der Protestantismus werde durch dasselbe nicht berührt," Volz translates: " My work is to be offset by the viewpoint of Niedriger — assume that Luther and Protestantism are not touched by it" (p. viii). "Niedriger," of course, is not a proper name, but a common noun meaning "obscure people."
Preserved Smith. Poughkeepsie, N.Y. [source]