Luther on Celibacy, Women and Shirts

The Catholic Church was a thousand years old before it took a real stand in favour of celibacy in the twelfth century at the Second Lateran Council held in 1139, when a rule was approved forbidding priests to marry. But it wasn’t until the Council of Trent in 1563, when it definitively adopted the tradition of celibacy.

Protestants took exception to celibacy early on, arguing that it promoted masturbation, homosexuality and illicit fornication. Martin Luther singled out masturbation as one of the gravest offences likely to be committed by those who were celibate.”Nature never lets up,” Luther warned, “we are all driven to the secret sin. To say it crudely but honestly, if it doesn’t go into a woman, it goes into your shirt.”

“We have reason to believe that man first walked upright to free his hands for masturbation.” ― Lily Tomlin

American Protestants in the 17th century, fearful of radical religious sects like the Shakers that celebrated celibacy, came out foursquare against the practice.

– Courtesy of

3 thoughts on “Luther on Celibacy, Women and Shirts

  1. Apostle Peter who is believed to be buried under the altar of St. Peter’s basilica, the main cathedral in Vatican, thus becoming a “stone on which the church is founded”, literally and figuratively, had a wife. He is mentioned to have a mother-in-law in Matthew 8:14 and, as far as I know, one can’t have a mother-in-law without a wife. The requirement of celibacy for the Catholic priests seems artificial to me and is, in my opinion, the primary reason for the child abuse scandal in the Catholic church. Even Christ in Matthew 19:12, which seems to be the only episode where celibacy is discussed in the Bible, is not categorical on celibacy saying “The one who can accept this should accept it.” Although, of course, this is not the only church practice that has no foundation in the Scriptures.

    The condemnation of masturbation seems to come from the story of Onan in Genesis 38:8-10. “8Then Judah said to Onan, “Sleep with your brother’s wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to raise up offspring for your brother.” 9But Onan knew that the child would not be his; so whenever he slept with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from providing offspring for his brother. 10What he did was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death also.” The sin there was not masturbation per se, but rather the neglect of his duty to provide offspring for this brother, if I read it right.

    I personally can’t wrap my mind around this. On one hand, Christianity declares “forgiveness of sins” saying that we should free ourselves of the sense of built. On the other hand, it does a thorough job instilling this sense of guilt in people for some natural and morally neutral things like masturbation. Perhaps, the sense of guilt is necessary to get people on their knees praying for forgiveness.

  2. The one who can accept this should accept it.

    One must understand that these were apocalypticists who believed the end of the world was right around the corner.

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