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7I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has a particular gift from God, one having one kind and another a different kind.


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7. For I should wish, that all. This is connected with the exposition of the foregoing statement; for he does not fail to intimate, what is the more convenient way, but he wishes every one to consider what has been given him. 387387     “Donne de Dieu;” — “Given by God.” Why, then, has he, a little before, spoken not by way of commandment? It is for this reason, that he does not willingly constrain them to marry, but rather desires that they may be free from that necessity. As this, however, is not free to all, he has respect to infirmity. If this passage had been duly weighed, that perverse superstition connected with the desire of celibacy, which is the root and cause of great evils, would never have gained a footing in the world. Paul here expressly declares, that every one has not a free choice in this matter, because virginity is a special gift, that is not conferred upon all indiscriminately. Nor does he teach any other doctrine than what Christ himself does, when he says, that

all men are not capable of receiving this saying.
(Matthew 19:11.)

Paul, therefore, is here an interpreter of our Lord’s words, when he says that this power has not been given to all — that of living without marriage.

What, in the meantime, has been done? Every one, without having any regard to his power, has, according to his liking, vowed perpetual continency. Nor has the error as to this matter been confined to the common people and illiterate persons; for even the most eminent doctors, devoting themselves unreservedly to the commendation of virginity, and forgetting human infirmity, have overlooked this admonition of Paul — nay rather, of Christ himself. Jerome, blinded by a zeal, I know not of what sort, does not simply fall, but rushes headlong, into false views. Virginity, I acknowledge, is an excellent gift; but keep it in view, that it is a gift. Learn, besides, from the mouth of Christ and of Paul, that it is not common to all, but is given only to a few. Guard, accordingly, against rashly devoting what is not in your own power, and what you will not obtain as a gift, if forgetful of your calling you aspire beyond your limits.

At the same time the ancients erred even in their estimate of virginity, for they extol it as if it were the most excellent of all virtues, and wish it to be regarded as the worship of God. 388388     “Comme vn service agreable a Dieu;” — “As a service agreeable to God.” Even in this there is a dangerous error; and now follows another — that, after celibacy had begun to be so much esteemed, many, vying with each other, rashly vowed perpetual continency, while scarcely the hundredth part of them were endowed with the power and gift. Hence, too, a third sprung up — that the ministers of the Church were forbidden to enter into marriage, as a kind of life unbecoming the holiness of their order. 389389     “Comme vn estat indigne et non conuenable a la sanctete de l’ordre;” — “As a condition unbefitting, and unsuitable to the holiness of their order.” As for those who, despising marriage, rashly vowed perpetual continency, God punished their presumption, first, by the secret flames of lust; 390390     “De passions et cupiditez desordonnees;” — “Of inordinate passions and lusts.” and then afterwards, by horrible acts of filthiness. The ministers of the Churches being prohibited from lawful marriage, the consequence of this tyranny was, that the Church was robbed of very many good and faithful ministers; for pious and prudent men would not ensnare themselves in this way. At length, after a long course of time, lusts, which had been previously kept under, gave forth their abominable odor. It was reckoned a small matter for those, in whom it would have been a capital crime to have a wife, to maintain with impunity concubines, that is, prostitutes; but no house was safe from the impurities of the priests. Even that was reckoned a small matter; for there sprung up monstrous enormities, which it were better to bury in eternal oblivion than to make mention of them by way of example. 391391     The reader will find the same subject largely treated of by our author in the Institutes, volume 3. — Ed.




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