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frequent and extravagant encomiums on virginity, with which scarcely any other virtue was in general deemed worthy to be compared. And though marriage was not condemned as impure, yet its dignity was so diminished, and its sanctity obscured, that he who did not refrain from it was not considered as aspiring to perfection with sufficient fortitude of mind. Hence those canons, which prohibited the contraction of marriage by those who had already entered on the office of priests; and succeeding ones, which prohibited the admission to that office of any but such who had never been married, or who had abjured all cohabitation with their wives. Because these things seemed to add respectability to the priesthood, they were received, I confess, even in early times with great applause. But our adversaries object antiquity against us. I answer; In the first place, in the days of the apostles, and for several ages after, the bishops were at liberty to marry, and the apostles themselves, as well as other pastors of the highest reputation who succeeded them, made use of this liberty without any difficulty. The example of the primitive Church we ought to hold in higher estimation than to deem that unlawful or unbecoming which was then received and practised with approbation. Secondly; even that age, which from a superstitious attachment to virginity, began to be more unfavourable to marriage, did not impose the law of celibacy upon the priests as if it were absolutely necessary, but because they preferred celibacy to marriage. Lastly; this law did not require the compulsion of continence in those who were not able to keep it; for while the severest punishments were denounced on priests who were guilty of fornication, those who married were merely dismissed from their office.
XXVIII. Therefore, whenever the advocates of this modern tyranny attempt to defend their celibacy with the pretext of antiquity, we shall not fail to reply, that they ought to restore the ancient chastity in their priests, to remove all adulterers and fornicators, not to suffer those whom they forbid the virtuous and chaste society of a wife, to abandon themselves with impunity to every kind of debauchery, to revive the obsolete dicipline by which all indecencies may be repressed, to deliver the Church from this flagitious turpitude by which it has been so long deformed. When they shall have granted this, it will still be necessary to admonish them not to impose that as necessary, which being free in itself depends on the convenience of the Church. Yet I have not made these observations from an opinion that we ought on any condition to admit those canons which impose the obligation of celibacy on the clergy, but to enable the more judicious to perceive the effrontery of our adversaries in alleging the authority of antiquity to bring disgrace on holy marriage in priests. With respect to the Fathers, whose writings are extant, with the exception of Jerome, they have not so malignantly detracted from the virtue of marriage, when they have been expressing their own sentiments. We shall content ourselves with one testimony of Chrysostom, because he who was a principal admirer of virginity, cannot be supposed to have been more lavish than others in commendation of marriage. He says, “ The first degree of chastity is pure virginity; the second is faithful marriage. Therefore the second species of virginity is the chaste love of matrimony."
Vows: the Misery of rashly making them. It is a thing truly to be deplored, that the Church, after its liberty had been purchased by the inestimable price of the blood of Christ, should have been so oppressed with a cruel tyranny, and almost overwhelmed with an immense mass of traditions; but the general frenzy of individuals shews that it has not been without the justest cause that God hath permitted so much to be done by Satan and his ministers. For it was not sufficient for them to neglect the command of Christ, and to endure every burden imposed on them by false teachers, unless they respectively added some of their own, and so sunk themselves deeper in pits of their own digging. This was the consequence of their rivalling each other in the contrivance of vows to add a stronger and stricter obligation to the common bonds. As we have shewn that the service of God was corrupted by the audacity of those who domineered over the church under the title of pastors, ensnaring unhappy consciences with their unjust laws; it will not be irrelevant here to expose a kindred evil, in order to shew that men, in the depravity of their hearts, have opposed every possible obstacle to those means by which they ought to have been conducted to God. Now to make it more evident that vows have been productive of the most serious mischiefs, it is necessary to remind the readers of the principles already stated. In the first place, we have shewn that every thing necessary to the regulation of a pious and holy life is comprehended in the law. We have also shewn, that the Lord, in order to call us off more effectually from the contrivance of new works, has included all the praise of righteousness in the simple obedience of his will. If these things be true, the conclusion is obvious, that all the services which we invent for the purpose of gaining the favour of God, are not at all acceptable to him, whatever pleasure they may afford to ourselves: and, in fact, the Lord himself, in various places, not only openly rejects them, but declares VOL. III.
them to be objects of his utter abomination. Hence arises a doubt respecting vows which are made without the authority of the express word of God, in what light they are to be considered; whether they may be rightly made by Christian men, and how far they are obligatory upon them. For what is styled a promise among men, in reference to God is called a vow. Now we promise to men either such things as we think will be agreeable to them, or such as we owe them on the ground of duty. There is need, therefore, of far greater care respecting vows, which are addressed to God himself, towards whom we ought to act with the utmost seriousness. But here superstition has prevailed, in all ages, to a wonderful degree, so that, without judgment, or discretion, men have precipitately vowed to God whatever was uppermost in their minds, or even on their lips. Hence those fooleries, and even monstrous absurdities of vows, by which the heathens insolently trifled with their gods. And I sincerely wish that Christians had not imitated them in such audacity. This ought never to have been the case; but we see, that for several ages nothing has been more common than this presumption: amidst the general contempt of the law of God, people have been all inflamed with a mad passion for vowing whatever had delighted them in their dreams. I have no wish to proceed to an odious exaggeration, or a particular enumeration of the enormity and varieties of this offence; but I have thought it proper to make these remarks by the way, to shew that we are not instituting an unnecessary discussion, when we treat of vows.
II. If we would avoid any error in judging what vows are legitimate, and what are preposterous, it is necessary to consider three things: first, to whom vows are to be addressed; secondly, who we are that make vows; lastly, with what intention vows are made. The first consideration calls us to reflect, that we have to do with God; who takes such pleasure in our obedience, that he pronounces a curse on all acts of will-worship, however specious and splendid they may be in the eyes of men. If God abominates all voluntary services invented by us without his command, it follows, that nothing can be acceptable to him, except what is approved by his word. Let us not, therefore, assume to ourselves such a great liberty, as to presume to vow to God any thing that has no testimony of his approbation. For the maxim of Paul, that " whatsoever is not of faith is sin,”(a) while it extends to every action, is without doubt principally applicable when a man addresses his thoughts directly to God. Paul is there arguing respecting the difference of meats, and if we err and fall even in things of the least moment, where we are not enlightened by the certainty of faith; how much greater modesty is requisite when we are undertaking a business of the greatest importance! For nothing ought to be of greater importance to us than the duties of religion. Let this then be our first rule in regard to vows; never to attempt vowing any thing without a previous conviction of conscience, that we are attempting nothing rashly. And our conscience will be secure from all danger of rashness, when it shall have God for its guide, dictating, as it were, by his word, what it is proper or useless to do.
III. The second consideration which we have mentioned, calls us to measure our strength, to contemplate our calling, and not to neglect the liberty which God hath conferred on us. For he who vows what is not in his power, or is repugnant to his calling, is chargeable with rashness; and he who despises the favour of God, by which he is constituted lord of all things, is guilty of ingratitude. By this remark, I do not intend that we have any thing in our power, so as to enable us to promise it to God in a reliance on our own strength. For, with the strictest regard to truth, it was decreed in the council of Arausium, that nothing is rightly vowed to God but what we have received from his hand, seeing that all the things which are presented to him are merely gifts which he has imparted. But as some things are given to us by the goodness of God, and other things are denied to us by his justice, let every man follow the admonition of Paul, and consider the measure of grace which he has received. (6) My only meaning here, therefore, is, that vows ought to be regulated by that measure which the Lord prescribes to us by what he has given us; lest, by at
(a) Rom. xiv. 23.
(6) Rom. xii. 3. 1 Cor. xii. 11.