Order of Contents
Whole of Church History
Lea, Henry C. – History of Sacerdotal Celibacy in the Christian Church, vol. 1, 2 3rd ed. rev. (London: Williams & Norgate, 1907) 490 pp. ToC 1, 2
On the Post-Reformation
Osborne, Seth D.
The Reformed & Celibate Pastor Richard Baxter’s Argument for Clerical Celibacy PhD diss. (Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2018) 445 pp.
This was the dissertation that was the basis for his book, below.
“Scholars have often depicted English Protestant Marriage Doctrine as nearly monolithic in its praise of marriage over celibacy as well as the liberty of all Christians to marry, but the literature actually reveals considerable tension. There was a heightened emphasis on celibacy as an inherently superior state among the spiritual sects and even among conforming churchmen who advocated the vita angelica [angelic life].
However, even though most English Protestants quickly rejected such claims, they still had to square their vigorous support of marriage with the expediency that celibacy afforded for serving God and promoting one’s spiritual welfare. The pragmatic advantages of celibacy could not simply be dismissed since they had clear scriptural support. Furthermore, despite rejecting the bifurcation of Scripture into universal commands and evangelical counsels, English Protestants struggled to develop a new moral system that answered whether Christians were obligated to forsake their liberty to marry if celibacy was more expedient. Both Jesus and Paul had counseled Christians to remain single if they were able.
English Protestants navigated around Scripture’s commendation of celibacy by limiting its application to those with the gift of chastity and periods of persecution. They also asserted that Scripture merely counseled or advised celibacy, rather than commanding it. Yet both solutions depended on tenuous assumptions. The first assumption was hermeneutical and depended on the conviction that Scripture’s teaching on marriage in Genesis 1-2 was normative while Paul’s was an exception for certain occasions. The second assumption was that Christians were not obligated to choose the state of life in which they could best devote themselves to God.
If either of the two assumptions were challenged, as they already had been with Whately, and especially Ames, then the decision to marry or remain single would be approached much differently; it would no longer concern the Christian’s liberty to choose what was “good” but the Christian’s obligation to choose what was “best.” As it so happened, Baxter explicitly claimed to have been influenced by both Whately and Ames.” – p. 108
“…Chapter 5 argued that Baxter’s treatment of clerical celibacy in the Christian Directory was a product of the three principles that he believed were vital to the Christian life. A life of godliness depended on maintaining a heartfelt love for God, continually meditating on the future life, and ordering one’s life to prioritize doing the greatest good. All intimate relationships, whether familial or bosom friends, posed a common potential threat to his three principles for Christian living. Intimate relationships frequently led one to the sin of disproportionately concentrating affections and time on a select few; this imbalance hindered Christians’ affections for God, focus on the future life, and devotion to doing the greatest good. Therefore, while the godly life was not impossible in marriage, celibacy usually proved to be the most advantageous state of life for Christians and especially pastors.
Since Christians were obliged to choose the most profitable state of life, they should only marry if they had a very definite call from God that wedlock would hold more benefits than hindrances to their spiritual welfare and capacity to serve God. The necessity of choosing the most expedient state of life applied even more to pastors, since the hindrances of marriage would be even more detrimental to them in light of the requirements of their sacred calling.
Chapter 6 concluded that Baxter’s decision to marry did not signify a capitulation of his argument for clerical celibacy but rather testified to its continuance. Furthermore, in choosing to marry Margaret, Baxter acted consistently with his teaching on what should motivate Christians to marry. Baxter’s account of his wife’s early life described her spiritual transformation from a worldly maiden into one of his most pious and devoted parisioners. Margaret’s affection for Baxter grew out of the influential role he had played in her life as a dear friend, father figure, and pastor of her soul. Baxter’s appreciation of her stemmed from the support, encouragement, and counsel she gave him during his failed attempts to achieve a moderate church settlement after the Restoration. This period was one of the lowest points in Baxter’s life, and Margaret proved to be a great help to his distressed soul.
Nevertheless, he remained firmly committed to clerical celibacy and only decided to marry once he had been silenced and ejected from the Kidderminster with no hope of ever having a parish ministry again. Baxter still considered himself a minister of the gospel. However, he would never have a specific pastoral charge that would require him, according to his specific pastoral model, to personally oversee the spiritual state of every parishioner. Since his argument for clerical celibacy no longer applied to his situation, he now felt at liberty to marry and called to marry Margaret.
Chapter 7 argued that the problems Baxter experienced in adjusting to married life help explain his continued support for clerical celibacy, despite the great benefit Margaret was to him. Though without a parish ministry, he still devoted himself to serving the universal church and training pastors, primarily through his writings. He persisted in his dedication to redeeming the time by prioritizing matters of necessity, especially choosing his public duties to the church over his private duties to Margaret. When time was scarce, which often proved true because of his chronic illness, his sense of pastoral urgency compelled him to put his ministerial responsibilities before Margaret. Hence, he experienced the same agonizing conflict of loyalties between ministry and marriage that he had always warned pastors to avoid. The benefits afforded by a godly wife, even one as extraordinary as Margaret, seemed to fail to make up for the loss of time and singular devotion which marriage inevitably compromised. Moreover, Baxter viewed Margaret’s exceptional godliness and helpfulness as an exception to what he had always believed men could usually expect from wives. Though scholars have puzzled over why he continued to argue for clerical celibacy, the answer lies in the fact that Baxter was still Baxter, a man driven by a single-minded focus on his public ministry.
This study of Baxter’s argument for clerical celibacy has… shown that English Protestants were less monolithic in their praise of marriage over celibacy than previously thought. Celibacy actually experienced a revival of interest among English Protestants during the course of the seventeenth century, and not just among radical sects but also some members of the Church of England. Furthermore, there was considerable disagreement over whether Christians were obligated to remain single, if they could remain chaste, since Paul had said that celibacy was better than marriage. While most stressed that marriage was a lawful and honorable state for all people, a significant minority believed that Christians should only marry once they discovered they lacked the gift of chastity…
Second, nearly all scholars have failed to realize that Baxter’s argument for clerical celibacy was key to fulfilling the rigorous ministerial expectations he proscribed in The Reformed Pastor. Baxter presented a model that expected pastors to personally catechize, admonish, and discipline each one of their hundreds or perhaps thousands of parisioners. The ideal pastor was not only defined by his assiduous labor to care for the soul of each parishioner, but also by the fact that he had been freed to do so by foregoing marriage for the sake of the sacred ministry. Only celibacy allowed for the maximal implementation of Baxter’s pastoral model for church reform.
…Experience was an influential teacher to Baxter, and he often exhorted all Christians to imitate what he found to be successful in his own life and ministry. His argument for clerical celibacy provided a prime example, for he was simply commending the practice that had been crucial to his pastoral triumph at Kidderminster.
Fourth, the uniqueness of Baxter’s argument for clerical celibacy forces one to reexamine the nature of the Christian Directory in terms of the book’s purpose and overarching principles. Scholars have presented the Christian Directory as a summa of the very best of Puritan practical divinity, but such a depiction is difficult to square with Baxter’s argument for clerical celibacy. The conundrum is resolved by understanding that the book was a record of Baxter’s pastoral instruction and practice at Kidderminster, which he intended to help represent his model of ministry for young and inexperienced ministers. He was presenting to them his own convictions about clerical marriage and hoping that many pastors would heed his advice and avoid marrying unless God clearly called them to it…” – pp. 380-83
The Reformed & Celibate Pastor Richard Baxter’s Argument for Clerical Celibacy Ref (V&R, 2021) 417 pp.
“Baxter (1615–1691) was… [an] English Puritan of the seventeenth century. He is well known for his ministerial manual “The Reformed Pastor”, in which he expressed the unusual conviction that parish ministers were better off unmarried. And yet, Baxter seemed to contradict himself by marrying one of his parishioners, Margaret Charlton. Though Baxter claimed to be happily married, he continued to champion celibacy for the rest of his life. This book explores Baxter’s argument for clerical celibacy by placing it in the context of his life and the turbulent events of seventeenth-century England. His viewpoint was shaped by several factors, including the Puritan literature he read, the context of his parish ministry, his burdensome model of soul care, and the formative life experiences shaping his theology and perspective. These factors not only explain why Baxter became the only Puritan to champion clerical celibacy but also why he continued to do so even after marrying.”
Szegedin Pannonius, Stephan – ‘Celibacy of Priests’ in Common Places of Pure Theology, of God & Man, Explained in Continuous Tables & the Dogma of the Schools Illustrated (Basil, 1585/1593), p. 499
Szegedin (1515-1572) also was known as Stephan Kis.
Hommius, Festus – 26. ‘Celibacy of Church Ministers’ in 70 Theological Disputations Against Papists (Leiden, 1614), pp. 140-44
Voet, Gisbert – Ecclesiastical Politics (Amsterdam, 1663-1676), vol. 2
1. ‘Of Lawful & Unlawful Celibacy’ 149-70
5. ‘Of Various Marriage Incompatibilities, the Contempt and Condemnation of Marriage, of Having Multiple Wives, a Changing [Giving, Selling, etc.] of the Same, a Barren Marriage, Incest, an Abominable Confusion of the Sexes, Polygamy, a Rendering of Service, Concubinage, Promiscuous Desire [Vaga Libidine], Perfidious Repudiations, Divorces, Desertions and of Marriages and Promiscuous Desire in the Future World’ 197