Sexual Immorality at the Time of the Reformation

I have heard the Reformation described as a reform of marriage and family in conjunction with a reform of the Church, and that Rome’s professed cynicism of sex led to all kinds of degeneracy throughout the medieval West not unlike much of what we are seeing today.

At the same time, I am seeing some Reformed Christians idealize “Christendom” not only in terms of civil government but as an era where the nuclear family was thriving and imitable.

These perspectives are obviously at odds. Which is more accurate? When, if ever, did the pre-Reformation church “lose” a biblical doctrine of sex?

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I don’t think I’m equipped to fully answer this question. But I think one thing worth thinking about would be where the pre-Reformation church went wrong and what was needed to correct it.

While the Reformers were contending with some root theological errors in the matter of sexual morality, those errors didn’t work themselves out in such a way that fornication, adultery and homosexuality were officially allowed in the Roman Catholic church, as we see in modern times. But the corruption of the church in search of power and wealth instead of service to God, the lack of understanding and teaching of conversion and sanctification, the lack of church discipline to cleanse wickedness from the church, and the hypocrisy of religious and civil leaders meant that these sins still flourished, although against the church’s teaching.


There is certainly some tension here, but I don’t think the two views are at odds. It is possible both that medieval Roman Catholic sexual theology was wrong and in need of reformation by the Word of God AND that even in spite of that, medieval Christians generally practiced better sexual continence than is generally found in our degraded times.

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About the centrality of restoring the dignity of marriage, fatherhood, motherhood, and childbearing/raising to the reform of God’s people which God granted us through the Reformation (which I think still is not given anywhere near the emphasis it ought to be), there’s maybe nothing as good as Ozment’s When Fathers Ruled. Outstanding, and it’s one of the demonstrations of the weakness of Reformed scholars today on anything not cerebral (except the sacraments) that this book is rarely, if ever, mentioned. About the medieval/Roman Catholic perversion of sex and marriage, I think it has a lot more to do with the themes hit by Ozment than any leftover Augustinian take on sex and concupiscence and woman. I’ve always thought that line of accusation weak. Love,