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Lessons in the Lutheran Confessions
Concerning Monastic Vows, Part 5

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Matthew 19:10–12

From the Confessions: The Augsburg Confession

Concerning Monastic Vows

Second, why do our opponents magnify the vow when they have nothing to say about whether it is possible, freely obligated, and chosen spontaneously and deliberately? It is well-known to what extent people have the power to remain celibate for their whole lives, and how few there are who have taken the vow spontaneously and deliberately. Young women and men, before they are able to judge for themselves, are persuaded, and sometimes even induced, to take the vow. Consequently, it is not fair to insist so rigorously on their pledge, since it is against the nature of a vow to take it without spontaneity and deliberation.

Most canonical laws cancel vows made before the age of fifteen, for before that age there does not seem sufficient ability to make a decision that affects an entire life. Another Canon acknowledges human weakness more by forbidding a vow before the age of eighteen. But which of these two Canons should we adopt? The majority have an excuse for leaving the monasteries, because they have taken the vows before reaching these ages.

Pulling It Together

When the Apostle Paul was a grown man, able to make decisions as to whether or not to be married, he seems to have chosen to remain unmarried so that his time could be devoted to the kingdom of God (1 Cor 7:6-7). Some people seem suited for single life. Nevertheless, they must adopt it for themselves; it cannot be forced upon them. Those who had taken oaths prematurely could be released from their obligations. Church laws made concession for this if they had made their oathes before being either 15 or 18 years of age. As this was the case for most people in monasteries, they were pressured to remain obligated, so as to keep the monastic system in place. The Lutherans were more concerned for the individual than the institution, insisting that only those who were able and willing to do so should remain in a state of sexual abstention. This is consistent with the teaching of Christ, who said, "Not everyone can receive this saying... Let the one who is able to receive this receive it" (Matt 19:11-12).

Prayer: Lord, help me to keep those vows that I have made to you, so that you may be glorified in my life. Amen. 

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