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1 Corinthians 7:36-38

36. But if any man think that he behaveth himself uncomely toward his virgin, if she pass the flower of her age, and need so require, let him do what he will, he sinneth not: let them marry.

36. Si quis autem virgini suae indecorum iudicat, si excedat florem aetatis, et ita fieri debet: quod voluerit faciat, non peccat: nubant.

37. Nevertheless he that standeth steadfast in his heart, having no necessity, but hath power over his own will, and hath so decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin, doeth well.

37. Qui autem stat firmus in corde, necessitatem non habens, potestatem vero habens supra sua voluntate, et hoc decrevit in corde suo, servare suam virginem, bene facit.

38. So then he that giveth her in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better.

38. Itaque et qui nuptum collocat, bene facit; et qui non collocat, melius facit.


36. But if any one thinketh that it were unseemly for his virgin. He now directs his discourse to parents, who had children under their authority. For having heard the praises of celibacy, and having heard also of the inconveniences of matrimony, they might be in doubt, whether it were at all a kind thing to involve their children in so many miseries, lest it should seem as if they were to blame for the troubles that might befall them. For the greater their attachment to their children, so much the more anxiously do they exercise fear and caution on their account. 439439     “Tant plus ils craignent qu’il ne leur adviene quelque inconvenient, et tant plus sont ils diligens a se donner garde pour eux;” — “So much the more do they fear lest they should meet with any inconvenience, and so much the more careful are they to use precautions on their account.” Paul, then, with the view of relieving them from this difficulty, teaches that it is their duty to consult their advantage, exactly as one would do for himself when at his own disposal. 440440     “Quand il n’est point sous la puissance d’autruy;” — “When he is not under the power of another.” Now he still keeps up the distinction, which he has made use of all along, so as to commend celibacy, but, at the same time, to leave marriage as a matter of choice; and not simply a matter of choice, but a needful remedy for incontinency, which ought not to be denied to any one. In the first part of the statement he speaks as to the giving of daughters in marriage, and he declares that those do not sin in giving away their daughters in marriage, who are of opinion that an unmarried life is not suitable for them.

The word ἀσχημονεῖν (to be unseemly) must be taken as referring to a special propriety, which depends on what is natural to the individual; for there is a general propriety, which philosophers make to be a part of temperance. That belongs equally to all. There is another, that is special, because one thing becomes one individual that would not be seemly in another. Every one therefore should consider (as Cicero observes) what is the part that nature has assigned to him. 441441     “La condition et propriete que nature luy a donnee;” — “The condition and propriety that nature has assigned to him.” See Cic. de Off. 1. 28. — Ed. Celibacy will be seemly for one, but he must not measure all by his own foot; 442442     “Comme on dit;” — “As they say.” and others should not attempt to imitate him without taking into view their ability; for it is the imitation of the ape — which is at variance with nature. If, therefore, a father, having duly considered his daughter’s disposition, is of opinion that she is not prepared for celibacy, let him give her away in marriage. 443443     Calvin seems to have understood the verb ἀσχημονεῖν here as meaning to be unseemly The ordinary meaning of the word is, to act in an unseemly manner It occurs in this sense in 1 Corinthians 13:5, and in various instances in the Classics, (see Eur. Hec. 407,) and the construction of the passage seems to require that it be understood as meaning, that the father thinks that he acts improperly towards his virgin daughter, or incurs somewhat of disgrace with respect to her. — Ed

By the flower of her age he means the marriageable age. This lawyers define to be from twelve to twenty years of age. Paul points out, in passing, what equity and humanity ought to be exercised by parents, in applying a remedy in that tender and slippery age, when the force of the disease requires it. And it requires to be so. In this clause I understand him as referring to the girl’s infirmity — in the event of her not having the gift of continency; for in that case, necessity constrains her to marry. As to Jerome’s making a handle of the expression sinneth not, for reviling marriage, with a view to its disparagement, as if it were not a praiseworthy action to dispose of a daughter in marriage, it is quite childish. 444444     “C’est vne cauillation puerile; — “It is a childish cavil.” For Paul reckoned it enough to exempt fathers from blame, that they might not reckon it a cruel thing to subject their daughters to the vexations connected with marriage.

37. But he who standeth firm in his heart. Here we have the second part of the statement, in which he treats of young women who have the gift of abstaining from marriage. He commends therefore those fathers who make provision for their tranquillity; but let us observe what he requires. In the first place, he makes mention of a steadfast purpose — If any one has fully resolved with himself. You must not, however, understand by this the resolution formed by monks — that is, a voluntary binding over to perpetual servitude — for such is the kind of vow that they make; but he expressly makes mention of this firmness of purpose, because mankind often contrive schemes which they next day regret. As it is a matter of importance, he requires a thoroughly matured purpose.

In the second place he speaks of the person as having no necessity; for many, when about to deliberate, bring obstinacy with them rather than reason. And in the present case 445445     “Et mesme quand il est question du propos dont il est yci fait mention;” — “And even when there is a doubt on the subject, of which he has here made mention.” they do not consider, when they renounce marriage, what is in their power, but reckon it enough to say — “such is my choice.” Paul requires them to have power, that they may not decide rashly, but according to the measure of the grace that has been given them. The absence of necessity in the case he appropriately expresses in the following clause, when he says that they have power over their own will. For it is as though he had said — “I would not have them resolve before knowing that they have power to fulfill, for it is rash and ruinous 446446     “Vne arrogance pernicieuse;” — “pernicious arrogance.” to struggle against an appointment of God.” But, “according to this system,” some one will say, “vows are not to be condemned, provided these conditions were annexed.” I answer that, as to the gift of continency, as we are uncertain respecting the will of God as to the future, we ought not to form any determination for our whole life. Let us make use of the gift as long as it is allowed us. In the meantime, let us commit ourselves to the Lord, prepared to follow whithersoever he may call us (Revelation 14:4.)

Hath decreed in his heart. Paul seems to have added this to express the idea more fully, that fathers ought to look carefully on all sides, before giving up anxiety and intention as to giving away their daughters in marriage. For they often decline marriage, either from shame or from ignorance of themselves, while, in the meantime, they are not the less wanton, or prone to be led astray 447447     “Elles ne sont de rien moins suiettes a affections desordonnees, ou a estre seduites et abusees;” — “They are not at all the less liable to inordinate affections, or to be seduced and deceived.” Parents must here consider well what is for the interests of their daughters, that by their prudence they may correct their ignorance, or unreasonable desire.

Now this passage serves to establish the authority of parents, which ought to be held sacred, as having its origin in the common rights of nature. Now if in other actions of inferior moment no liberty is allowed to children, without the authority of their parents, much less is it reasonable that they should have liberty given them in the contracting of marriage. And that has been carefully enacted by civil law, but more especially by the law of God. So much the more detestable, then, is the wickedness of the Pope, who, laying aside all respect, either for Divine or human laws, has been so daring as to free children from the yoke of subjection to their parents. It is of importance, however, to mark the reason. This, says he, is on account of the dignity of the sacrament. Not to speak of the ignorance of making marriage a sacrament, what honor is there, I beseech you, or what dignity, when, contrary to the general feeling of propriety in all nations, and contrary to God’s eternal appointment, they take off all restraints from the lusts of young persons, that they may, without any feeling of shame, sport themselves, 448448     “S’esgayent et desbauchent;” — “Sport and debauch themselves.” under pretense of its being a sacrament? Let us know, therefore, that in disposing of children in marriage, the authority of parents is of first-rate importance, provided they do not tyrannically abuse it, as even the civil laws restrict it. 449449     “Comme aussi a ceste fin les loix ciuiles restraigment l’authorite d’iceux;” — “As also for this end civil laws restrict their authority.” The Apostle, too, in requiring exemption from necessity, 450450     “En requirant yci que les enfans sentent en eux ceste liberte et exemption de la necessite du mariage;” — “In requiring here that children feel in themselves this freedom and exemption from the necessity of marriage.” intimated that the deliberations of parents ought to be regulated with a view to the advantage of their children. Let us bear in mind, therefore, that this limitation is the proper rule — that children allow themselves to be governed by their parents, and that they, on the other hand, do not drag their children by force to what is against their inclination, and that they have no other object in view, in the exercise of their authority, than the advantage of their children.

38. Therefore he that giveth in marriage. Here we have the conclusion from both parts of the statement, in which he states, in a few words, that parents are free from blame if they give away their daughters in marriage, while he at the same time declares that they do better if they keep them at home unmarried. You are not, however, to understand that celibacy is here preferred to marriage, otherwise than under the exception which was a little before expressed. For if power be wanting on the part of the daughter, 451451     “Car quand la puissance defaudra a la fille de s’abstenir de mariage;” — “For when the daughter has not power to abstain from marriage.” the father acts an exceedingly bad part if he endeavors to keep her back from marriage, and would be no longer a father to her, but a cruel tyrant. The sum of the whole discussion amounts to this — that celibacy is better than marriage, because it has more liberty, so that persons can serve God with greater freedom; but at the same time, that no necessity ought to be imposed, so as to make it unlawful for individuals to marry, if they think proper; and farther, that marriage itself is a remedy appointed by God for our infirmity, 452452     “Pour subuenir a nostre infirmite;” — “To help our infirmity.” which all ought to use that are not endowed with the gift of continency. Every person of sound judgment will join with me in acknowledging and confessing, that the whole of Paul’s doctrine on this point is comprehended in these three articles.

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