12Having condemnation, because they have renounced their first faith. “ To have condemnation,” is interpreted by some as signifying “ deserve reproof.” But I take it to be a statement of greater severity, that Paul terrifies them by the damnation of eternal death; as if he reproved them by saying that that excellent order, which ought rather to have united them to Christ, was the very ground of their condemnation. And the reason is added, that they entirely “ from the faith” of baptism and from Christianity. I am aware that there are some who interpret it differently; that is, that they break the pledge which they gave to the Church by marrying, having formerly promised that they would live unmarried till death. This is exceedingly absurd. Besides, why should he call it their first faith?
Accordingly, Paul rises to greater vehemence against them, and magnifies the enormity of the offense, by saying that not only would they bring disgrace on Christ and his Church by departing from the condition to which they had agreed, but they likewise broke their “ faith” by wicked revolt. Thus it usually happens, that he who has once transgressed the bounds of modesty gives himself up to all impudence. It grieved him that the levity of those women was a reproach to the godly, and that their lustfulness was reproved, or, at least, was liable to reproof. This led them to proceed to greater and greater degrees of licentiousness, till they renounced Christianity. That amplification is exceedingly appropriate; for is there anything more absurd than that they should, through a wish to promote the advantage of persons, open the door to the denial of Christ?
The attempt of the Papists to support, by means of this passage, a vow of perpetual celibacy, is absurd. Granting that it was customary to exact from the widows an engagement in express terms, still they would gain nothing by this admission. First, we must consider the end. The reason why widows formerly promised to remain unmarried, was not that they might lead a holier life than in a state of marriage, but because they could not, at the same time, be devoted to husbands and to the Church; but in Popery, they make a vow of continence, as if it were a virtue acceptable to God on its own account. Secondly, in that age they renounced the liberty of marrying at the time when they ceased to be marriageable; for they must have been, at least, sixty years old, and, by being satisfied with being once married, must have already given a proof of their chastity. But now, vows are made among the Papists to renounce marriage, either before the time, or in the midst of time ardor of youthful years.
Now we disapprove of the tyrannical law about celibacy, chiefly for two reasons. First, they pretend that it is meritorious worship before God; and secondly, by rashness in vowing, they plunge souls into destruction. Neither of these was to be found in the ancient institution. They did not make a direct vow of continence, as if the married life were less acceptable to God, but only, so far as it was rendered necessary by the office to which they were elected, they promised to keep from the tie of marriage for their whole life; nor did they deprive themselves of the liberty of marrying, till the time when, though they had been ever so free, it was foolish and unreasonable for them to marry. In short, those widows differed as much from the nuns, as Anna the prophetess from Claude the Vestal. (93)
(93) “A Rome on appeloit Vestales les vierges consacrees a une deesse nommee Vesta (comme qui diroit aujourd’ les nonnains de saincte Claire) et ceste Claude en estoit une qui a este fort renomnmee.” — “ Rome they gave the name of Vestals to virgins consecrated to a goddess called Vesta, (as if we should say, at the present day, the nuns of St. Claire) and that Clauda was one of them that was highly celebrated.”