I see no more deadly poison can be given to a growing Christian than contentiousness. For are not love and contentiousness diametrically opposed? And what is the Christian life altogether but love? Therefore, when you sow the seeds of contentiousness, at the same time you banish love; for they are as unwilling to be guests in one and the same house as Christ is to associate with Belial. — Huldrych Zwingli
“Having been taught by experience I can say how you ought to restore your spirit when you suffer from spiritual depression. When you are assailed by gloom, despair, or a troubled conscience you should eat, drink, and talk with others. If you can find help for yourself by thinking of a girl, do so.
The only sane bit is the talking with others thing. ‘Thinking of a girl’ and ‘eating and drinking’ will only lead to guilt and thus more despair and depression.
Sometimes Luther has good advice and other times his advice is horrible. This is just such a time.
For instance, in Geneva a series of Council edicts condemned the behavior of the priests:
- Dissolute lives of the Cordeliers de Rive, September 2d 1483, June 13th, July 11th, November 28th 1486; June 24th 1491; June 20th 1503 (they refuse to be reformed); May 10th 1527, and May 4th 1534.
- Dissolute lives of the Jacobins or Dominicans de Palais, July 22d 1513 (on which occasion Frère Marchepala and some others are accused of an ‘unnatural crime’; i.e., code for homosexual relations); June 20th and 23d 1522.
- Dissolute lives of the Augustinians de Notre Dame de Grâce, August 29th 1483, and September 9th 1491.
- Dissolute lives of the priests. October 10th 1513; July 12th 1527; April 1st 1530, and August 18th 1534.
Also in Geneva
So great was the ignorance of the clergy, that when the opinions of the Church began to be called in question in Geneva, none of them could be found to defend them, and they professed their incapacity for the task. The manners of the secular priests and of the monks were equally irregular and dissolute. The disorder caused by their irregular habits could scarcely have been greater than it was. Not only did they keep concubines in their houses with unblushing publicity, but maintained harems of dissolute women in the vicinity of their churches and convents. Such were the fruits of the enjoined celibacy of the clergy, and of their exemption from secular jurisdiction.29 During half a century previous to the Reformation, these practices had been forced on the notice of the Council, which repeatedly made remonstrances on the disgusting subject to the bishops and heads of religious houses.
So habituated had they become to a dissolute life, that even after the light of the Reformation had broke in among them and exposed their shame to the eyes of all, and when their manners threatened to entail ruin on themselves and their whole order, they refused to change their practices. The Abbé de Bonmont, old man and dean of the Chapter as he was, persisted in retaining his mistress to the last. The bishop himself, Pierre de la Baume, at the very time that the clergy had incurred the indignation of the citizens by favouring the pretensions of Savoy, carried off a young woman of respectable connections in the time of Lent, and was forced to deliver her up in consequence of a tumult excited in the town by that discreditable outrage on public feeling.
When the city was besieged by the Duke in 1535, and victuals became scarce, the Council issued a decree that all the “useless mouths” should leave the town, and among those who were excluded the concubines of the priests formed a great proportion.
Their licentiousness, along with their extreme ignorance, contributed greatly to facilitate the introduction of the Reformation; as those who could not judge of the points in dispute between the two parties, were at no loss to draw the conclusion, that either the profligate priests did not believe the doctrine they professed, or that that doctrine was not of God.*
In short, the Catholic church had mostly itself to blame and its perverse priests for the acceptance of the Reformation among the general population.
Similarly, the Church today has only its ignorant clergy to blame for the abandonment of the faith by chunks of the populace. Those unwilling to learn from history are doomed to repeat history.
*Thomas M’Crie and William Ferguson, The Early Years of John Calvin (Edinburgh: David Douglas, 1880), 116–117.