Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Martin Luther's Condemnation of the "Secret Sin" of Masturbation and Acceptance of Celibacy for Those Called to It By God

By Dave Armstrong (6-2-10)

The fashionable zeitgeist now present in Protestantism (especially, but not exclusively, of the liberal variety), is to increasingly sanction divorce, fornication, homosexual acts, abortion, contraception, and masturbation. The latter is surprisingly condoned even by the usually traditional moralist and family advocate Dr. James Dobson, and, with extraordinarily ridiculous and scandalous argumentation, by anti-Catholic Reformed apologist Steve Hays, who wrote (almost as if he were a thoroughly secularized regular columnist for Planned Parenthood):

I don’t think that Christians should go around guilt-ridden if they engage in this practice. On the face of it, this seems like a natural sexual safety value for single men—especially younger men in their sexual prime. Like learning how to walk or perform other athletic activities, this form of sexual experience and physical experimentation may train an unmarried young man in attaining some degree of mental and muscular control so that he is not a total novice on his wedding night. . . . I can’t say absolutely if it is right or wrong, but I tend to deem it permissible under some circumstances.

("Too hot to handle - 2", 7-15-04)

Martin Luther, the founder of Protestantism, on the other hand, opposed the practice. He referred to it (so it seems fairly clear in context, I think) as a "secret sin":

From: The Estate of Marriage (1522); translated by Walther I. Brandt; pp. 17-49 in Luther's Works, Volume 45 (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1962):

Therefore, just as God does not command anyone to be a man or a woman but creates them the way they have to be, so he does not command them to multiply but creates them so that they have to multiply. And wherever men try to resist this, it remains irresistible nonetheless and goes its way through fornication, adultery, and secret sins, for this is a matter of nature and not choice. (p. 18)

Therefore, priests, monks, and nuns are duty-bound to forsake their vows whenever they find that God's ordinance to produce seed and to multiply is powerful and strong within them. They have no power by any authority, law, command, or vow to hinder this which God has created within them. If they do hinder it, however, you may be sure that they will not remain pure but inevitably besmirch themselves with secret sins or fornication. For they are simply incapable of resisting toe word and ordinance of God within them. Matters will take their course as God has ordained. (p. 19)

. . . the devil has contrived to have so much shouted and written in the world against the institution of marriage, to frighten men away from this godly life and entangle them in a web of fornication and secret sins. (p. 37)

It is certainly a fact that he who refuses to marry must fall into immorality. . . . For if special grace does not exempt a person, his nature must and will compel him to produce seed and to multiply. If this does not occur in marriage, how else can it occur except in fornication or secret sins? (p. 45)

Note the various moral errors (beyond our present purview) even in Luther's correct condemnation of a sin, in line with the Bible and the entire history of Christianity: at least till the latter 20th century and widespread compromise on sexual issues. It should be pointed out that in the same work (at the very end), he absurdly opines also that:

Intercourse is never without sin; but God excuses it by his grace because the estate of marriage is his work, and he preserves in and through the sin all that good which he has implanted and blessed in marriage. (p. 49)

This self-contradictory, convoluted mentality regarding morality and sin is arguably largely derived from the nominalistic influences on Luther's thought.

On the other hand, to his credit, Luther does correctly acknowledge (referring to Jesus' statement on voluntary and involuntary eunuchs in Matthew 19:12) that there is such a thing as a validly celibate person, by God's power. Thus, he states:

[F]rom this ordinance of creation God has himself exempted three categories of men . . . Apart from these three groups, let no man presume to be without a spouse. And whoever does not fall within one of these categories should not consider anything except the estate of marriage. Otherwise, it is simply impossible for you to remain righteous. . . . you will be bound to commit heinous sins without end.

. . . you cannot promise that you will not produce seed or multiply, unless you belong to one of the three categories mentioned above.

. . . No vow of any youth or maiden is valid before God, except that of a person in one of the three categories which God alone has himself excepted. (pp. 18-19)

The third category consists of those spiritually rich and exalted persons, bridled by the grace of God, who . . . voluntarily remain celibate . . . Such persons are rare, not one in a thousand, for they are a special miracle of God. No one should venture on such a life unless he be especially called by God, like Jeremiah [16:2], or unless he finds God's grace to be so powerful within him that the divine injunction, "Be fruitful and multiply," has no place in him. (p. 21)

Do you not hear that restraint is impossible without the special grace? (p. 45)


scotju said...

What Luther says about the sex drive forcing people to "do it" in marriage, fornication, or the secret sin IMHO is merely his neurotic justification for his breaking of his vow of celebacy. The more I read about ML's behavior, the more I'm persuaded that he suffered from neurotic disorders that drove those behaviors and influenced the way he interpeted the Christian faith. While he condemned adultery, fornication, and secret sins, he then says you got to have it (sex). I can't imagine the anxiety this produced in the minds of those who heard this nonsence. Then again, that's what leaders of a false religion want in their followers.

Dave Armstrong said...

Possibly. I disagree, myself. I think it can all be explained by the nominalistic influence on his thought. It is a very irrational thought-system.

His own mood swings and depression, etc. (whatever he suffered from; and many non-Catholic scholars and biographers are convinced he had some serious issues) may have tied into that, but I think the false ideas and prior premises are primary in his errors on this score.

Lutheranism is not a "false religion"; it is a partially heretical yet still Christian belief-system. We must be more precise in our terminology and not fall into the same uncharitable nature that anti-Catholic rhetoric exhibits all the time.

scotju said...

I don't believe Luther's interpetation of the Christian faith "can all be explained by nominalistic influence on his thought". His dysfunctional thinking came from the neurotic disorders that haunted him from childhood. Any reading of Luther's life will show that the adults in his early childhood years treated him roughly. Harsh verbal and physical abuse by his parents and early teachers will warp a child's mind into a mass of neurotic disorders. Go to for a very good discussion of the childhood origin of nerotic disorders. IMHO, Luther latched on to nominalism because it agreed with his pre-existing disturbed state of mind, not vice-versa.

Lutheranism "is a partially heretical yet still Christian belief system?" Sorry Dave, I can't see it that way. There's no such thing as a "partially heretical Christian belief-system". The main doctrine of Lutheranisn ,justification by faith alone, is a soul damning heresy. The Lutheran Confessions teach hatred of the Pope and the Catholic faith, the true religion. To call any Protestant sect "a partially heretical yet Christian belief system" is like calling a woman expecting a child half pregnant! No Dave, Ltheranism is a false religion, because it opposs the Catholic faith.

Dave Armstrong said...

Then you have serious problems with Vatican II and are assuming a quasi-schismatic position in so doing. The present pope said that Trent and Vatican II carry the same authority and go together.You can't simply thumb your nose at Vatican II and adopt whatever view you like in the face of that. That is a Protestant or liberal Catholic pick-and-choose mentality.

It ain't just me saying this: it is what the Church and magisterium teaches.

James said...

This article is four years old but I'll comment anyway. Two points that I think contribute:

1. Author says "to his credit, Luther does correctly acknowledge (referring to Jesus' statement on voluntary and involuntary eunuchs in Matthew 19:12) that there is such a thing as a validly celibate person, by God's power."

Yes but to his credit Luther said only 1 in 100,000 have this gift of celibacy or special grace. Reference: Luther's commentary on 1 Corinthians 7:9. That kind of statistic and Luther's other comments destroy any support for celibacy but rather support marriage for proper sexual fulfillment.

It may be of some interest that (probably due to rise in pornography) medical science has published many negative side effects of masturbation.

Among other things, Masturbation is associated with increased prostate cancer, schizophrenia, depression, and breast cancer.

Journal of sex research 2002;39:321–5
Journal of Clinical Epidemiology 1989;42:1227–3
The British journal of psychiatry 2003;182:50–6.
Advances in Cancer Research 1988;51:1–106

"Is Masturbation Healthy? The Science Says No"