The Indissolubility of Marriage Obliterated

November 15, 2017
Philip, Landgrave of Hesse.

The Vatican issued a stamp with the likeness of Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon, on October 31 of this year, the anniversary of the posting of the 95 theses that started the Protestant Reformation 500 years ago. We are alarmed, with good reason, to see commemorated in this way the heresy that caused a schism and damaged the unity of the Church so much. But the presence of Luther and of his friend Melanchthon on this stamp recalls an episode from the history of Protestantism that is not without interest in 2017.

We are talking about the affair of Philip of Hesse’s bigamy. Although he had been married to Christine of Saxony since 1523, the Landgrave of Hesse multiplied his adulterous liaisons. In 1539, however, his mistress of the moment demanded marriage. Unable to ask the Pope to dissolve his marriage, because he no longer acknowledged his authority, Philip asked Luther and Melanchthon, of all people, for an acceptable solution based on the Sacred Scriptures. Therefore in December 1539 the two Reformers, not without embarrassment, had to construct a convoluted argument to state that although Christ forbids polygamy, He does allow a few exceptions.

In his History of the Variations of the Protestant Churches, Book VI, Bossuet writes: “They allowed the Landgrave, ‘according to the Gospel’ (for everything was done under that rubric during the Reformation) to marry another wife together with his own. True, they deplored the state in which he was, ‘of being unable to abstain from his adulteries as long as he has only one wife’, and they described this state to him as being very bad in God’s sight and as contrary ‘to the safety of his conscience’. But at the same time and in the following period they allowed him to remain in that state, and they declared that he could ‘marry a second wife, if he was completely determined to do so, provided only that he keep the case secret”. Thus one and the same mouth uttered good and evil.... It was said for the first time since the birth of Christianity, by men who claimed to be doctors in the Church, that Jesus Christ had not forbidden such marriages.”

Could it be that any resemblance with a recent Post-Synodal Exhortation is merely coincidental?

Father Alain Lorans