There have been very great complaints in the world, among individuals both of high and of low rank, concerning the excessive lasciviousness, the dissolute life and conduct of the priests, who were unable to observe continence, and who had proceeded to the greatest excess in vice. For the purpose of avoiding such gross and detestable offences, – adultery, and others acts of sensuality, – some priests among us have entered a state of matrimony. These allege, that in taking this step, they have been urged and actuated by the dictates of conscience, since the Scripture expressly declares that marriage was instituted of the Lord God to prevent fornication, as Paul says, 1 Cor. 7, 2: “To avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife.” Again, “It is better to marry than to burn,” 1 Cor. 7, 9. Christ declares: “All men cannot receive this saying,” Matt. 19, 11. In this passage Christ himself, who well knew the constitution of man, declares that few persons have the gift to live continent; “for God created them male and female,” Gen. 1, 27. Now experience has abundantly shown, whether it is within human power or ability, without a special gift or grace of God, to improve or change the creatures of God the Most High, by human purposes or vows. For it is evident, what good, what decent, chaste lives, what Christian, honest, or blameless conduct, have followed from this in many individuals! Ah! what abominable, hideous disquietudes and torments of their consciences, many have experienced in the close of their lives! Many of them have confessed it themselves. Since, then, the word and law of God cannot be altered by any human vows or enactments, the priests and other ecclesiastics, for these and other reasons and authorities, have entered into a state of matrimony.

So it may be shown likewise from history and the writings of the Fathers, that formerly in the Christian churches, it was customary for priests and deacons to have wives; wherefore Paul says, 1 Tim. 3, 2, “A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife.” It is but four hundred years since the priests in Germany were driven by force from a state of matrimony to vows of continence, and they opposed that measure so generally, with so much earnestness and rigor, that the archbishop of Mayence, who published this new Papal Edict, was well nigh being murdered in a mob excited by the priests. And directly in the beginning, in a manner so precipitate and arbitrary was that decree enforced, that the Pope at that time did not only forbid priests to marry in future, but he also dissolved the marriage of those who had already been in that state for a long time, – an action which was not only contrary to all divine, natural, and civil rights, but in opposition also to the canons of the popes themselves, and to the most celebrated councils.

In like manner, among individuals of high standing, piety, and intelligence, have similar opinions and sentiments been heard frequently, – that this compulsory celibacy, this prohibition of matrimony, which God himself instituted and left optional, has never been productive of any good, but the source of many great and pernicious vices and excesses. And even one of the popes, Pius II., himself, as his history shows, often used these words, and permitted them to be written: “There may be some reasons, indeed, why marriage should be forbidden to the ecclesiastics; but there are much higher, greater, and weightier reasons why marriage should be left optional with them.” And doubtless, pope Pius, as an intelligent and wise man, spoke these words from mature consideration.

Wherefore we would in submission to your Imperial Majesty, comfort ourselves with the hope that your Majesty, as a Christian and highly esteemed Emperor, will reflect that now in these latter days, of which the Scripture makes mention, the world becomes still more degenerate, and mankind more sinful and weak.

For these reasons it is a highly necessary and Christian consideration, that we should be mindful, lest, by the prohibition of marriage, lasciviousness and other crimes more wicked and shameful, be promoted in the German states. For no one is able to encourage or regulate these matters better or more wisely than God himself, who has instituted marriage for the purpose of assisting human weakness, and of restraining licentiousness. Thus say the ancient canons too, that severity and rigor must on some occasions be mitigated and relaxed, on account of human weakness, and for the purpose of guarding against, and of avoiding greater evils.

Now such a course would in this case be Christian and very necessary. For what injury could result to the Christian church in general, – especially to the ministers and others, who are to serve in the church, – from the marriage of priests and ecclesiastics? There will indeed be a want of priests and ministers hereafter, should this rigorous prohibition of marriage be continued longer.

Now, since the authority is founded upon the divine Word and commandment, for priests and ecclesiastics to enter into a state of matrimony; besides, since history shows that the priests did live in a state of matrimony; since also, the vows of continence have produced a very great number of offences so detestable and unchristian, adultery so excessive, licentiousness so terrible and unheard of, and vices so abominable, that even some of the courtiers among the dignitaries at Rome, have often confessed these things, and admitted with sorrow that, as these vices in the clergy were so abominable and predominant, the wrath of God would be excited, – it is indeed lamentable that the Christian state of matrimony has not only been forbidden, but even subjected, in some places, to the most severe punishment, as if it were a heinous crime.

Matrimony is moreover commended highly in imperial governments, and in every monarchy in which justice and law prevail. But in the present time innocent people are beginning to be tortured on account of their marriage, priests likewise who should be spared in preference to others, – a thing which is not only contrary to divine laws, but also to the canons. That doctrine which forbids marriage, the apostle Paul denominates a doctrine of devils, 1 Tim. 4, 1, 3. And Christ himself says, John 8, 44: “The devil is a murderer from the beginning.” All these things concur well to prove that to be a doctrine of devils, which forbids marriage, and attempts to enforce the prohibition by the shedding of blood.

But as no human law can abrogate or change a command of God, so a vow is not able to change his command. Wherefore Cyprian advises those women to marry who do not keep their chastity according to their vow, and he says, lib. I. epist. II.: “But if they will not preserve their chastity, or if they are unable, it is better to marry, than to fall into the fire through their lust: and they should be very careful not to occasion offence to the brethren and sisters.”

In addition to these considerations, all the canons extend more lenity and justice to those who have taken vows in youth, the priests and monks for the most part having through ignorance entered into this state in their youth.