Concerning virginity, continence and marriage, we follow and defend the clear teaching of Paul in I Corinthians 7. And even as Christ (Mt. 19:12) praises eunuchs who castrated themselves for the sake of the kingdom of Christ, so we also teach that the retention of virginity is a good work, and useful for giving constant attention to studies and meditation, to prayer and to ecclesiastical offices, even as Paul says (I Co. 7:32-33) that he that is married cares for the things that are of the world, whereas the celibate (cares for) the things that belong to the Lord. For domestic concerns hinder the married person from being able to show that constant attention which is beneficial to studies and public duties; but a celibate is freer and can give greater attention to learning, teaching and other functions, and is less often diverted from these pursuits. And so it is advantageous to choose and have in the churches ministers who are completely celibate. Those who seem to be suited to that ought to be encouraged to preserve the gift of God for the benefit of the Church with diligence and temperance, and they ought to be instructed that this estate pleases God and has great rewards.
But since Christ himself bears witness that not all are suited to perpetual celibacy, therefore we hold that marriage ought not to be forbidden those who are not suited to celibacy; neither can it be prohibited by human vows or laws, because human vows are not able to free us from the divine law and the right of nature. For this is a divine law (I Co. 7:2, 9), that everyone who does not have the gift of continency should have a wife in order to avoid fornication. And the right of natures is a desire for union in keeping with right reason. To this natural drive, which (the Greeks) call “storge”, there has been added concupiscence, which inflames nature all the more, so that there is all the more need of marriage as a kind of remedy.
The law however, which prohibits the marriage of priests, is a purely human tradition. Indeed, this new tradition, which forbids the marriage of priests and which dissolves marriages, did not arise from the councils, but only from the Roman bishops.
Purity before God, however, consists in not polluting one’s conscience but in obeying God. Therefore impure celibacy is not purity, but marriage is purity, since it is sanctified by the Word of God. Thus Paphnutius said that conjugal custom is continency. For we well know that this state of life pleases God and gives full scope for the exercise of godliness, and for that reason the Church for a long time, not only in the east but also in the west, had priests who were married.
And history books bear witness to the fact that this custom was changed in Spain and Germany by force, and the Greek churches still have married priests. And so marriage is not impurity or a state unbecoming to ministers in the churches. But what sad examples and how much shameful impurity the law of the Bishop of Rome has imposed on the churches is no secret. And since a divine law prescribes marriage for those who cannot show continence, we judge that the papal prohibition concerning marriage is illegitimate, and that the marriage of priests ought to be permitted.
From the Wittenberg Articles of 1536.
(As translated in Documents of the English Reformation, edited by Gerald Bray, 150-152.)